Almanac Footy: The Joy of Reunions

 

 

Getting old now, crossing sixty and I’m finding myself thinking more in terms of mortality and my own personal contribution to this earth.

I would consider myself a misanthrope, a dunderhead, a man with little time for selfish individuals, someone with a inherent dislike of all politicians but a kind and loyal fool by any measure.

Being bi-polar I’ve always looked at any achievements in my life with suspicion and challenged why I couldn’t have done better. For instance, I can’t actually remember any individual performances that pleased me as a footballer over twenty years playing semi-professionally but I remember the bad ones vividly.

What I can remember is the team performances and they always put a bit of spring in my step. I’ve been blessed to play in some successful teams alongside some quality blokes on and off the field.

As you get older I, along with many men I reckon, slowly start retreating a bit from the relationships that you previously eagerly engaged in over the decades.

Things change and evolve of course. Kids, grandkids, careers, moving locations and just the plain acquisition of different interests. It can be difficult to motivate one’s self to attend reunions at times but there are huge benefits to be had.

I find there is a strange healing I attain from reunions that I’ve been fortunate to attend over the years and this was underlined with an exclamation mark last weekend in Brisbane at the Coorparoo FC Past Players.

Almost a hundred players from all generations attended at the old but beautifully upgraded Giffin Park. Now with two ovals, the day accentuated our age by having the entire day accompanied with women’s games on both grounds. If those participation numbers are anything to go by, AFLW in Qld has a bright future.

Name tags were mandatory as we moved about the crowd but there were many old team mates from my era 1984-1986 who were instantly recognisable.

It may have been be the gait, the smile or the laugh, but it instantly brought back a simpler time when footy was just fun. There was a hell of a lot of man hugging as a result!

For three years I drove the two hours from Toowoomba where I was stationed in the army, to Brisbane on Friday arvos, train, play Sundays and drive home usually in an altered state from the social club, which in those days was ‘the place to be’ on a Sunday night.

Coorparoo FC in 1984 was the perfect storm. There were three segments that came together to produce an unstoppable team. There was the ex-VFL players Kevin O’Keeffe, Terry O’Neill, Gary Becker and Les Millar.

Then there was a group of transients from the Hampden Region of Western Victoria recruited by Kevin O’Keeffe, and me and Glen Hutcheson from Kwinana in WA. We were all approximately twenty year-olds and a tad ‘loose’, pretty much up for anything.

Finally we had this incredible bunch of under twenties from the Coorparoo Juniors, two of whom would go on to AFL, Jason Dunstall and Michael Gibson.

Aside from these two, my roving partner the late Brendan McMullen won two league B&F’s but the best of the lot and unfortunately the laziest, was Greg Page. Six foot four, incredibly agile, highly skilled on both sides and extremely aggressive on the field he was also the most laconic footballer I’ve ever played with.

Throw in a charismatic coach Laurie Pendrick from North Wagga and a AFL NSW Hall of Famer and it made for an interesting time. He was colourful, outspoken and gregarious by nature.

I chaperoned ‘Lozza’ over three days bringing him up from country Victoria, and by Sunday I was threatening to leave him in a Brisbane retirement village! He like all of us who travelled, were overwhelmed from seeing the old faces.

Reunions bring out memories that were clearly hidden in the dark recesses of what’s left in my brain. One lovely gentleman Steve, in an emotional moment reminded me that when he was twelve he used to kick footys back us on Friday nights when we practiced our goalkicking after training.

To thank him, one night I gave him a South Fremantle jumper I had packed as a seventeen year old when I left WA to join the army. I have no recollection but Steve went on to have an excellent career in his own right and thanked me for my generosity all those years ago.

I played with a great bloke Ashley who introduced me to his younger brother Geoff who turned out to be a Professor of Sport at Latrobe Uni in Melbourne. His knowledge of Coorparoo FC was phenomenal and between us we discussed what may have been the ‘sliding doors’ moment for Jason Dunstall.

In 1983 the club was coached by the legendary Carl Ditterich and the full forward that year was the mercurial and spectacularly nonchalant Greg Page. Jason by all reports was a handy half forward at best in 1983, having had a background in soccer and rugby previously. Come 1984, and Pagey contracted the mumps to add to his adverse reaction to pre-season and missed the first third of the season.

By the time he returned, Dunstall had established himself at full forward so he had no other choice than to get under Kevin O’Keeffe’s wing and play in defence. Despite Pagey starring as a defender, Dunstall was taken by Hawthorn at the end of 1984 and the rest is history.

Much of the deep affection you have at reunions such as this comes from the amount of time you spend together. As a part time sports person you can easily take for granted the hours of toil that you spent honing your craft with team mates.

When I started going to  reunions I used to have a level of reticence, perhaps worried that I wouldn’t remember anything from the past or that no one would remember me, but it takes no time for the dormant chemical reactions in my brain to kick off again.

When conversations seamlessly continue from when they left off decades ago, you know you’re with someone you shared significant time with and those chats can soon become exhilarating.

One of my former coaches at Werribee FC, Leon Harris has been organising pub lunches for years. Players from his era of 1990-1992 attend and they are always a hoot.

We had a 1993 Werribee FC premiership lunch last year and this year the club shouted us another lunch at a home game. Our former defender and resident knucklehead, Frank Lesiputty stole the 1993 VFA premiership Cup and sent videos into our past players group on Facebook showing the cup in various guises and holding it for ransom.

He wanted to exchange it for all of us premiership players to be awarded life memberships. Fortunately it was returned safely to Avalon Airport Oval after two weeks! I’m not sure our CEO Pennas and Prez Marty were overly impressed!

During the wash-up of this fantastic weekend I couldn’t help but think of something my old premiership coach at Werribee once said and it may well be the most intelligent thing I’ve heard Donald McDonald say. :)

At the start of last year, the current coach of Werribee FC Mick Barlow, kindly invited us past players to a night of pre-season training and a BBQ to catch up with some of the current players.

Donald was subsequently asked to have a chat to the players. We as players of the club’s only premiership team are mindful that raising that topic to the new generation is more of a killjoy than something truly motivating.

So Donald, without any reference to 1993 delivered what I believe was the most authentic and succinct summing up of reunions. It went something like this:

“Boys, we are all getting on and from my experience in football the biggest thing I can pass on to you is that too much emphasis is put on premierships and individual awards. The best thing about the game are the people you meet along the way. Make the most of those relationships, because they are what matters most.” 

As much as it pains me to say it, well said Donald. Spot on.  :)

 

Regular Melbourne CFC past players L-R G Becker, T O’Keeffe, J Dunstall, K O’Keeffe, I Wilson, L Pendrick

 

L Pendrick and former skipper Brett ‘Butch’ Jones

 

Me with two of my oldest and closest friends, Karl Strichow who came up from Newcastle and Glen Hutcheson who flew from Perth

 

To read more from Ian Wilson, click HERE

 

 

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About Ian Wilson

Former army aircraft mechanic, sales manager, VFA footballer and coach. Now mental health worker and blogger. Lifelong St Kilda FC tragic and father to 2 x girls.

Comments

  1. Riverina Rocket says

    LOZZA!!!!

    You were a brave man to pick up Pendrick and take him to Queensland!

    He is almost universally regarded as the best-ever local player in the Riverina.
    He could do everything – play, coach, umpire – all at the same time.

    Michael Gibbons has done a great job to keep the club together.
    My son had a run at Cooparoo in the Colts a few years back.
    Gibbo was fantastic.
    All we ever talked about was Lozza…

    So good that you made it along and wrote about it.

  2. Regional Richard says

    Ian and Rocket Rod: I was in the Sydney University footy team which played Coorparoo in Brisbane in the early Sixties.

    We played interstate a couple of times a year — this was 1962-63 — and Uni. was the only totally amateur club in the then NSW AFL.

    After a time period of some six decades I can’t remember which oval we played on but I recall Coorparoo beat us. Not a thrashing but not a close game either.

  3. Ian Wilson says

    thanks heaps gents. Rod I played in a premiership with Lozza in 1983 with North Wagga and he convinced me to go to Coorparoo in 1984 and he’s godfather to one of my girls. It was my absolute pleasure to get him up there and he was obviously emotional given the impact he had on the club. Richard what surprised me when I started playing in the QAFL was just how old the competition was and the quality of the locals at the time. It was likely it was Giffin Park where you played. Cheers

  4. Riverina Rocket says

    On ya Ian,

    It’d be great if you wrote a piece about that season in 1983 with North Wagga.
    And what it was like playing under Lozza.
    From memory NW were in the RFL in 82 – and came back down to the RDFL (Farrer) in 83.
    Can you recall playing against TRYC, MCU, the Gulllie, et al.
    It’d be good from a NSW historical perspective

  5. Love a reunion.

    thanks, Ian.

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