Almanac (Sporting) Memoir: 1957

 

 

 

 

At the beginning of 1957 I was a few months past seven years of age. My memories are clearer than earlier years and more focused. I don’t have a broad and varied memory bank compared to earlier years. Perhaps after the euphoria of the Olympic Games in 1956 I had been overcome with the sheer size of the concept of sport in general.

I had been the subject of much criticism in my Grade 2 year. It seems the teacher Miss Anderson at St Colman’s Balaclava believed I was far too focused on sport to spend any time working on her teachings, specifically Religion.

It is bizarre that I have no memory whatsoever of my Grade 3 school year. I must have been a very good boy. I suspect I kept my head down and put in.

The Saints were of course my prime focus. How could things be any different.

In 1956, St Kilda gained some of the much-needed respect it craved. It had to build on that in 1957.

One of my clear memories was John Coffey returning to the club after five years away. For some reason he became a favourite of mine. I believe I met him earlier in the season when I was in the rooms with close neighbour and family friend ‘Uncle’ Len Stephenson a club committeeman.

Later in the year Alan Morrow and Bill Stephenson arrived in controversial circumstances. They were a recruiting coup for the Saints who offered some financial encouragement to Sale (their club). This was hotly debated in VFL circles as it was argued to be illegal. This offer for Morrow and Stephenson caused a huge ruckus.

Of course, I do not clearly remember this as I have described but I was fully involved with the story. Two doors down at Uncle Len’s we – my dad, Jackie Mac, local good guy, Ronnie Anderson a loud neighbor, Max Stephenson, son of Len and a Saints player, and this little boy – sat around the kitchen table discussing all the football politics to great extent. It was fascinating and as I remember in later life a privilege to be part of.

Alan Killigrew had scoured the country for potential players and he was reported as saying, “The only way we could get players was by inducements. We were the first to do it. We would put 200 ten-bob notes on the table because it looked more impressive than 100 one-pound notes.”

I love this quote. It was something I will always remember. The fact that all this was probably illegal was spell bounding for me as a child. I felt I was part of a crime thriller as I listened intently to the discussions at 41 Camden St, Balaclava.

My 1957 memories are all about the sportsmen I met as a child having incredible access to the club because of Uncle Len. He took me to most games and while he was busy, I had full access to the players. It was a childhood memory I doubt I will ever lose.

Brian Gleeson was such a wonderful human being who treated everyone – adults and children – with respect. He polled votes from the umpires in ten rounds and won the Brownlow medal. It still is one of the most exciting things I have experienced in my many decades of following the Saints.

Bill Young kicked 56 goals and finished second in the goal-kicking and Harold Davies polled 14 votes in the Brownlow in a stellar year.

St Kilda Under 19s, coached by Saints legend Bob Wilkie, won the premiership and was seen as the training ground for future stars.

Brian Gleeson my nearly all-time hero had held my hand as he led the side out in the ’57 night series so this little boy’s life was just about the best when it came to the Saints.

I have only a little memory of the other teams in 1957. I remember Melbourne beating Essendon by a considerable margin in the Grand Final.

I still had favourite players in other clubs so remember clearly that Bluey Adams got a game for the Dees. I was also intrigued by John Lord, a ruckman for Melbourne. Neighbour Len Stephenson always fumed about Lord playing for Melbourne. He almost shouted: “He should have been a St Kilda player”!

In more recent years I had opportunity to speak to the late John Lord on many occasions so I raised that with him. He laughed and told me that his father was St Kilda’s Secretary in the early 1950s when John signed with Melbourne. He told me that he asked his father what he should do, was it to be the Saints or Melbourne. Lord senior pointed to the League ladder and where both sides were on it. John said no words were exchanged, he just went and signed with Melbourne. He didn’t think his father was very popular with a few Saints committeemen when John began to establish himself in the champion Melbourne team.

After all those years Len Stephenson’s anger finally made some sense to me. I doubt Len was overly angry, he was a demonstrative man but I never saw him sustain anger towards anyone, but then again, he was the local Police Sergeant at St Kilda police station so he may have had his moments.

At the end of the 1957-night series it was time to pull out the cricket bat. I loved cricket from as early as I could remember. In the backyard at 45 Camden St, St Kilda, bat in hand, brother Kevin behind the stumps, Dad bowling, forward defence, front foot to the ball.

Laurie Miles and I, with a few others, would play in the street using the lamp post as a wicket. We’d play to dark, keenly fought out games. The pitch, the bitumen road, would provide the odd unplayable ball and also provide a great cricket education. Forward defence again and again, foot to the ball, elbow up, practice, practice.

I can’t remember too much of Victorian and Australian Test cricket. I think we were too busy playing street cricket and any other sporting pursuit around the St Kilda streets. Billy cart racing was a new thing for me. We built a pretty flimsy cart in the back shed and managed to get it out on the road. Somehow, we survived the crashes and destruction of the carts the boys in the street managed to build. It was great and perhaps dangerous fun but they were different times.

Then there was Tulloch!

In 1957 I regularly went to the races with my dads’ cousins, next door neighbours and on the odd occasion Dad got time off work to come along as well.

I had been attracted to Tulloch as a two year-old horse in 1956 mainly because he wore St Kilda colours Red, White and Black but by Spring Carnival time in 1957 he was a larger-than-life horse who had taken my breath away.

I loved horses and horse racing. My all-time favourite Rising Fast had created back in 1954 my all of life love affair with horse racing. Tulloch was now adding something special that I had not previously seen. To this day I am thankful that my family were able to take me to see Tulloch. He is a once in a generation horse. Of course there have been other champions since but this (by now) eight year-old boy will never forget witnessing one of the greatest ever performances in the 1957 Caulfield Cup.

I cannot really describe the race from a boy’s perspective other than the pre-race excitement and the reactions of my dad and his cousins both before and after the race.

Before the race everyone seemed over excited to me. I had been to Caulfield some weeks or days before, it is too long ago to remember clearly, but Tulloch had won in extraordinary fashion.

The expectations to me were a little worrying. While everyone was excited, they were also worried he would fail. I had no such fears. Of course, he would win.

Perched on my fathers’ shoulders not far from the winning post, I watched Tulloch cross the line a long way in front of the others. The excitement in the crowd was awesome. The noise was deafening. I did not understand what records could be broken and comparisons with other champions but I knew Tulloch had achieved something great and I was there to see it

When we all gathered around the radio at the boarding house next door at 47 Camden St Balaclava on Melbourne Cup day everyone was a little sad that Tulloch was not racing in The Cup. I understood that Tulloch was a young horse and that the owner was concerned about him racing in such a hard race as the Melbourne Cup especially after winning the Derby on the Saturday. What a horse!

Even so, everyone felt disappointed. Tulloch had excited us all, children, and adults.

Tulloch would have won! Straight Draw won just beating Prince Darius which I had in the sweep. I made sure everyone was aware that Tulloch had beaten Prince Darius by many lengths in the Derby. They just smiled at me; they all knew. Sometimes little boys should just shut up even if they think they know it all!

My 1957 year ended with Victoria being trounced by NSW in the Christmas Sheffield Shield game at the `G. The only positive note was one of my all time favorite Australian players Norm O’Neill scored a brilliant hundred in the game. I was given a Norm ONeill bat which I treasured. I just can’t remember if the bat came after this game or before.

1957 was a great year in so many ways. The Saints continued to improve under Alan Killigrew and Brian Gleeson won the Brownlow. I loved my horse racing and Tulloch had arrived. School was not a big issue that I can remember and 1958 was dawning as a great year.

So bring it on! It was not to be anything like I had pictured. Next 1958.

 

 

Read more from Allan Grant, including his memoirs from each of 1954, 1955 and 1956, as well as other interesting local, sporting and military history HERE

 

 

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Comments

  1. Great memories. Thanks for sharing. I’m 6 years younger than you, but remember the hot gospeller Alan Killigrew when he later coached Norwood in the SANFL. A charismatic figure in rather staid times. Similarly went to an Adelaide Test in the early 60’s much anticipating seeing the dashing Norm O’Neil in a very pedestrian era. He got a blob.
    Backyard cricket was high stakes. So was horse racing, but we won’t talk about the war.
    Cheers.

  2. Allan Grant says

    Hi Peter. Thanks for your comment. I sat on Alan Killigrew’s knee at a Saints function. I remember him clearly. I later went to secondary school with his son John. What an interesting character. My coming memoir of 1958 will explore his impact at St Kilda further.
    Norm O’Neill probably is larger than life for me because I had a Norm O’Neill bat and I think if I bothered to research it I might find he scored prolifically against Victoria. I love your interest in back yard cricket and horse racing. I don’t know about a war!!!. Are you talking about Victoria vs Sth Australia over many years?
    I had a Grandfather a parochial Sth Australian. Loved his Coopers but even he couldn’t drink West End.

  3. Hayden Kelly says

    Allan
    Thanks great memories . I reckon every kid aspired to a real cricket bat in the late 50s and early sixties and invariably it was a size 6 Norm O’Neill made by Crockett Bats who were based in Yarraville I reckon . Well mine was .
    Bob Crockett was a test umpire and ahead of his time he planted willow trees at Shepherds Flat near Daylesford and hence the bats were genuinely all Australian .

  4. John Harms says

    Yep, we had a Norm O’Neill. Which lasted a long time. Followed by a Shaw and Shrewsbury. They were family bats. After that we each saved up to buy our own. I was a Viv fan so I had a short handled SS. Next brother had a Grey-Nich pre-scoop. Next brother had a Slazenger Polyarmour from memory.

    Really enjoying your memoirs Allan. You have a real talent at putting us back in that moment in time. You make it feel like Melbourne in the 1950s.

    Thanks.

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