Almanac Sport: Big milestone for sport’s old survivors


IF YOU were a historian seeking clues as to why Melbourne is the sports capital of the nation, if not the world, you would have done well to have been present at a very convivial lunch in an upmarket St Kilda pub a few days ago.

Happily, I was. This was the combined 60th birthday party and Christmas celebration of one of the city’s more venerable and interesting sporting institutions, the Vingt Cinq Club.


You could probably say this is a definition of a ‘boy’s club’ – there are no female members —  except that the term boy might be considered a tad optimistic. Nobody has ever bothered to work out what our average age might be but there would be very little, if any, change out of 70.


In fact, we conferred life membership on three of our number on this day, one of whom was tennis legend Frank Sedgman. Frank is 94. Nonetheless, he is confident he will make very good use of the honour, and he is still moving so well and still so in charge of all his marbles that no-one doubts it.


The others were two of footy’s greatest names, Ron Barassi (who was absent because he has covid) and Bob Skilton. They are 85 and 83. And they are not the only octogenarians. Neil Roberts is 88, Allen Aylett is 87 and Doug Wade is 80, and that’s just the footballers, of whom there are quite a few other big and not so big names. Test cricketer Ian Meckiff is 86.


And the president Leon Wiegard, a dual Olympic water polo player and one of the last presidents of the Fitzroy Football Club when it was in the VFL, is 82.


So when you think about it, it is a minor miracle that this club continues to exist, let alone thrive, as it is doing with a membership that currently numbers 82.


Why does it exist?


The reason couldn’t be any simpler – to have fun in each other’s company. For the camaraderie. The mateship. Which, when you get down to it, is probably the main reason why sport itself exists.


It came about in 1961 when some footballers didn’t mind enjoying a liquid lunch on a Friday before a game, often with their mates from other sports, but for obvious reasons needed to do so with a certain amount of privacy.


It evolved from there, largely under the direction of prominent sports journalist Ian McDonald, who became the first president – Wiegard is only the second one, an amazing stat given it takes in six decades.


Neil Roberts and Ian Meckiff are the only two survivors from the original group of 25, or Vingt Cinq in French.


The same year, a similar group calling itself the Carbine Club after the great racehorse was also formed and is still going as strongly as Vingt Cinq, perhaps in a slightly more upmarket fashion, with some members common to both.


Back in the 70s, Vingt Cinq pioneered the concept of big lunches on the Friday before the footy Grand Final. Now there are dozens of them, but the original one is still a pace-setter with as many as 700 guests each year, at least until the pandemic put them on the backburner.


Footy is the lifeblood of the club, as it is of most things Melbourne. Kevin Sheedy, Peter Bedford, Simon Madden, Simon Beasley, Norm Brown, Sam Kekovich, Ian Law, Wayne Richardson, Barry Richardson, Wayne Schimmelbusch, John Sharrock and Ted Whitten are just some of the other prominent identities.


In the last year, Murray Weideman, 85, Graham Arthur, 84, and Albert Mantello, 87, hung up their (drinking) boots, taking another massive chunk of Melbourne sporting history with them.


It takes all sorts, so there are umpires, cricketers, Olympic gold medallists, cyclists, jockeys and trainers, hockey players, basketballers, administrators and journalists, with well-known businessman and sports entrepreneur Gerry Ryan – a life member – contributing extremely generously to the club’s ability to keep functioning as enjoyably as it does.


Why does he do that? “Because it is a really special group of people,” he says. No other motivation necessary.


Why do so many big names gravitate to it?


“Because everyone is on equal terms here,” says Sedgman. “You can’t come here thinking you’re pretty good because you’ll quickly be put in your place.”


Obviously, the amount of knowledge , wisdom and experience – and the vast repository of tall tales and true – on offer is astonishing, probably unequalled in any similar cohort.


There is no such thing as the fountain of youth of course, but whatever they put in the drinks at the Vingt Cing Club’s 11 functions a year sems to get the job done pretty well. Many Happy Returns to it.



You can read more from Ron Reed Here.



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