Almanac Premierships Against The Odds: The Premiership Bandits


The Premiership Bandits


The Footy Almanac has delighted in sharing with our readers the story of the Not Bad Thanks basketball team and Graeme Willingham’s subsequent book about the trials and tribulations of the team to achieve their first premiership. To celebrate the winning of a media award for his book, Graeme shares an extract from his book  featured below. If you would like to purchase the book please contact [email protected] for details.


In April, Graeme Willingham’s book Not Bad Thanks won Basketball Victoria’s 2019 Media Award, for its portrayal of the game at the community level. The book tells the story of the extraordinary 80-seasons-old Not Bad Thanks Basketball Club playing in the men’s Business Houses Association competition at MSAC.



At launch, the Footy Almanac staged a book night for the author at The North Fitzroy Arms and followed up with a book review by our Mark Miller.


Over 80 seasons, Not Bad Thanks, or NBT as its registered, won six premierships, the first of which leads off our Premiership Bandits Series of premierships won against all the odds, or through bizarre circumstance.  This one fits into the bizarre category.


Airing the gear during lockdown.


From the book, the story is headed DOUBLE DEFAULT.


Fronting up to the last game of the 1992 season, clear in fifth place on the Business Houses’ E Grade ladder, NBT, would yet again, miss the finals; another mediocre middle-of-the-road season. Just like most of the 23 before this one. A last game win would hand the team three premiership points, never enough to push them into the final four. Fifth was where NBT belonged. The teams above had their measure.


NBT duly won its last game and retired to The Clubrooms (The Emerald Hotel) for refreshing reflections on the game, and on another season lost.


On the following Monday, the VBHBA alerted NBT it was actually in the finals, having finished third.


It was Secretary Eric on the phone.


“Jeez, Eric, whaddya mean third? You must be mad!” said NBT’s Captain-for-Life, aka Doktor.


“No, I’m not mad. You play Nads on Thursdee night in the second semi.”

“How come?”


“The team that you beat was a substitute for a team that withdrew mid- season. As it turned out, they were of vastly different standard, so we put in place a system of compensation, or equalisation if you like, across the board, which means you’ve got six points for the win instead of the normal three. That pushed you into third place, on percentage.”


“I don’t understand; are you for real?”


“Yep, you play on Court 6 at 7.45. Good luck!”


Immediately the call went out to all Players, who were unanimously astonished with the abrupt resumption to a season vanquished. Everyone was available. The Patrons were advised, too. This could be it. Knock off Team 2 and into the Grand Final. In this comp, the finals comprise 1 v 4 and 2 v 3 with winners playing off for the title. Nads, Team 2, though, was a formidable opponent, having disposed of NBT comfortably twice during the season. That did not deter Players’ families, and Patrons, who attended with blue and gold streamers, representing the colours of the NBT uniforms of the day.


It was a disaster. Smashed from the outset. Never in the hunt. Lacklustre. Pathetic. An embarrassing 23-point defeat. Nothing for the supporters to cheer about. Wish they had not been there, the Players reflected at The Clubrooms. The loss was their fault. From that point, supporters were discouraged from attending NBT finals games.


“Good luck next week against API” was the sentiment of NBT Players as they sportingly shook hands with their conquerors. There was no love lost between API Rats and the rest of the competition. API played it hard, fast. They were a tough outfit, deservedly holding top of the ladder throughout the season.


Five days later, association secretary Eric reappears: “I assume by this phone number, you’re on school holidays. Sorry to interrupt the holiday, but NBT is playing in the Grand Final.”


“Bullshit! What do you mean?”


“Nads ran an unqualified player, so you won the game.”


“You have to be joking!”


“No, the scoresheet names differed from the list of qualified players on the noticeboard … there was a player on the sheet whose name wasn’t on the noticeboard list.”


“I don’t believe it.”


“One had played only seven games, instead of the required 10, so you win!”


“We get into the finals by default, and now we’re in the Granny by default?”


“The stupid thing is … if Nads had asked permission for that player to be eligible, we would probably have given them the nod. The player was not a top-class ring-in, but a long-serving player who’d missed many games because he was in Europe for work, and he’d just got back. He was a regular member of the team, but not a game-breaker, so we would have probably let him play. That’s the silly thing about all this. They should have asked.”


“API will be happy as they’ll see us as an easier option because they’d be really pushed hard by Nads.”


“Maybe. I assume I’ll see you Thursdee, then?”


“Hell Eric, it’s Tuesday now, and I’ve just 48 hours to get the team together, which might be difficult given school holidays. I know some Players have gone away as a result of last week’s semi loss, but we’ll be there. What a hoot. I don’t believe it.”


Eric said a protest had been lodged immediately after the game, but he declined to reveal who lodged it. One NBT Player believed he overheard a comment to that affect, as he was leaving the stadium. Who lodged the protest? All NBT Players at the game later declared they had nothing to do with it, because they were unaware of any issues surrounding player eligibility. None had checked the eligible players list compiled by Eric’s association. And, strangely, there is little comment on the incident in NBT’s archives.


All members of the semi-final team declared their availability. Except one. Given the semi loss on the Thursday, the next day, 2x6Packs called his gambling group together for their annual trip to Launceston Casino. He is the captain of the group, the organiser, for the four-day foray on the casino’s blackjack and roulette tables. Over several years, the group had proven so profitable for the casino that the establishment provided complimentary accommodation.


“Doktor, I am really torn here on my commitment to NBT and by duty to my group. You’re the Captain of NBT and I’m the Captain of Cards. I think I have to stay here.”


That was 2x6Packs’ immediate response. The next day, Instigator advised he had booked a return flight for 2x6Packs for Thursday afternoon, and an early Friday morning flight back to Launceston.


“2x6Packs, there have been developments,” Doktor called. “There’s a ticket waiting for you at Launie airport. Instigator has organised it through his GatorGetThere Airlines. No-one will know you’re gone.”


Instigator is both a generous and a club-spirited man. His gesture didn’t work though. The NBT team lining up for the VBHBA 1992 E Grade grand final would be one Player down, a Player in form and a potent long-reach ally of Big John. 2x6Packs was worth four-to-six points a game — he had command of NBT’s high post — as well as saving the same off the defensive backboard. 2x6Packs’ game on Grand Final Night was to be on the tables at Launceston.


Crossing the Westgate Bridge, at just before 6pm on this mid-September Thursday, the western faces of Melbourne’s CBD office blocks were illuminated gold. The sun had broken through threatening clouds. Was the gold tone an omen? The 55-storey Rialto took the brunt of the rays. Rialto builder, Bruno Grollo, would have smiled; at this moment, his glass towers glowed as a resplendent contemporary art installation on the city skyline.


Fast Eddie, driving his carpentry workhorse white 1965 Holden ute, had chatted with Doktor all the way from Geelong about: the imminent State Government Election; Paul Keating’s Prime Ministership; Fast’s work of making robustly beautiful table tops from recycled timber; and, Doktor’s holiday with his partner and sons on the Surf Coast, which was interrupted by the VBHBA’s call to arms. All sorts of topics. Except basketball.


Five minutes before arriving at the stadium, for the showdown with API Rats, Doktor blurted out what was really on his mind for the entire journey: “Fast, these bastards have cleaned us up easily in our two encounters this season; what do we do?”


“Dok, simple really. In both games, they put a half-court press on the ball-carriers. They double and triple-manned our Player with the ball forcing him to make panic passes, which they intercepted and ran off to do uncontested layups … they stripped us centre court.”


“You’re right. What’s the answer?”


“Don’t panic. No rushed passes. If our ball-carrier is blocked, he must hold the ball until someone gets to him. And we’ll run another Player in that zone until we get to our offensive set-up. They can’t intercept a pass that’s not been made. The likelihood is that, in the process of them hassling that Player, they’ll foul him. It’s a win-win either way. The only difference between the teams is their ability to strip the ball from us mid-court.”


“Got it. Our defence is good; we’ve got no worries there against this team, but we’ll miss 2x6Packs’ reach. What about once we get the ball into our scoring zone? We need a simple plan there, too, one that everyone understands.”


“We’ll set up a strong side, with both high and low post on the same side of the key, plus a strong winger. So, we have a triangle one side. The point is at the top. And, on the other wing is our other Player, who will in effect be unguarded, because their five-man defence will collapse to defend our strong side. The ball-handler will pass the ball to the high post who has the option of shooting himself, or dishing it to the low post for an inside play, or to the immediate winger to shoot long. The other move is to shoot a pass to the standalone Player who will have a clear shot.”


On arrival courtside, Fast explained the simple game plan to his teammates, all of whom harboured low expectations given the drubbings by API during the season. It all made sense. Fast and RAGS had brought that much-needed basketball nous to a club renowned for its football-style attack on the ball and ‘wing’ and ‘back pocket’ positions. The team had 24 seasons under its belt, but had garnered little knowledge of the finer points of the game. The defence was usually in a 2x1x2 configuration.


Fast Eddie’s simple plan worked a treat. In previous encounters, the half-time score was 20-10, or thereabouts, in favour of API. This time it was a lowly 10-10. Game on!


NBT was dealt a serious blow when RAGS collected his fifth foul early in the second half. RAGS was a controlled dribbler, consistent mid-range shooter, accurate passer and team Player. He had extremely strong hands for rebounds. On the court, Fast was the General, RAGS the Colonel. Both astute strategists. As members of the Geelong and Melbourne Lithuanian clan, they bestowed on NBT their native country’s blood-rich basketball heritage. RAGS’ other skill was asking referees at half-time to be consistent in their interpretations, and, after the game, explaining the rules at length to referees as they tallied the scoresheets. He did so emphatically, but respectfully.


NBT maintained centre-court control. API became frustrated at their lack of progress as NBT edged ahead. Six points down with a minute to go, API called their last Time Out. Fast instructed NBT that they must control the ball at all costs. Milk the clock.


NBT had the ball on resumption. Seconds were valuable to NBT, as long as they are ticking down. Instigator, on court, noticed the scorers — two referees — had not restarted the clock, which favoured API’s chances of rescuing the game.


“TURN THE #&#%!$#  CLOCK ON!” he yelled, just a metre from the scorers’ faces.


“Oh shit, NBT’s trying to invent another way to lose a grand final!” was recorded on a video being shot by Keith, the father of Founding Players Mad Dog and The Great RP. The voice belonged to another Founding Player, Squeaker, who stopped playing after 299 games (it’s more memorable than 300 games, he argued).


Full-force direct abuse of referees or officials of this magnitude automatically wins a Tech Foul call. Most refs of the time would record it as a reportable offence and remove the offender from the court. Either way, the opposition would get two free shots from the line followed by possession of the ball from the side.


No disciplinary action. Stunned by their apparent carelessness, the scorers urgently restarted the clock, without comment. And, the on-court referees didn’t respond either to Instigator’s profanity!


NBT held on to win by six points.


The bizarre journey to the Club’s First Flag was complete.


Players and their small band of supporters chorused into The NBT Anthem (‘Ennn Bee Tee’ over and over again to the tune of Silent Night) which resonated Domingo-like under the corrugated asbestos roof of Albert Park’s biggest shed. Nothing like this had been seen, or heard, before at the stadium, NBT was told. Some 100 other players in the stadium who had also completed their grand final matches in other grades on eight courts, stopped in their tracks, swivelling their heads to identify the source of this melodic, but raucous outburst.


The characters of Not Bad Thanks Basketball Club are identified in the book only by club nicknames. Consistent with that level of anonymity, or privacy, the club has redacted this 2011-12 premiership team image. For the record, apparently, they are, left to right: standing tall, Flash, Postie, Scuds, Instigator, Large, Axe, Kooka, Big W and Plasma; crouching, Czar, Lord Albert, Doktor. This premiership was of a conventional nature.


Not satisfied with the collar-and-tie Mad Monday Savage Club Premiership Lunch, nor the black-tie De Lacy Premiership Dinner with partners and Patrons, the Club decided it should adhere to a long-standing blokes’ sports club premiership ritual and call a Premiership Pie Night. This was held at The Clubrooms.


The Not Bad Thanks Basketball Club had ‘done a Bradbury’, way before Bradbury became a noun.



Copies of the book are available by contacting us here at the Almanac in the first instance and we will pass your details on to Graeme. [email protected]


Do you have a premiership-stolen story against the odds that you would like to share on the Footy Almanac site?  For details click Here.



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  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Thanks for sharing Graeme, a terrific read! Is the team able to get any training in or has it gone by the wayside during Covid?

  2. Graeme Willingham says


    Most watched Last Dance, some have been shooting baskets, and others haven’t touched a ball. Might be another chapter?

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