Bob Heard and The End of Innocence

A recent post by Harms included a photo from a junior game at the Cramer St Oval.  It set me to reminiscing over watching Preston in the 1960s.


My first footy jumper was knitted by my older sister.  I was 5 and the scratchy blue and white hoops were my constant companion until unravelling in the spin cycle of my Mum’s new whirlpool.  When I could kick the footy as high as our back window my Nan suggested I had the makings of a Ron Barassi.  I knew it was a complement but in my eyes there was only one footballer, Polly Farmer.  In my footy dreams Polly was perennially tapping the ball to Bill Goggin.  The saddest day was the 1967 Grand Final.  Not only Geelong lost but Polly Farmer moved back to Western Australia.


In spite of my hooped dreams I belonged to a VFA family and in 1968 I saw my first ever Preston game at Cramer St.  The day was an education, or the start of one. At half time my Dad bought me my first peanuts for ‘five a bag’.  I took an instant liking to the smallest player on the ground who kept getting squashed and kept getting the ball.  The tallest bloke I had ever seen kept tapping it to him.  In the fickleness of childhood imaginings, Farmer and Goggin were replaced by Bob Heard and Bruce Reid.


That first game was one of those footy quirks, in doubt after the final siren. Allan Joyce, supposed tough guy from Hawthorn, had the ball only 20 yards out.  My Dad and Uncle were sceptical that an Eastern suburbs type could teach blokes from Reservoir how to be tough.  I was just sceptical about Joyce’s kicking.  Allan Joyce kicked flat punts like Doug Wade but with the reliability of Travis Cloke.  Still, from 20 yards out I waited for the win.  In my last lesson of the day, I Iearnt what a ‘Bronx Cheer’ was.  Joyce’s flat punt wobbled out of bounds.


Allan Joyce would prove his toughness and win over the Northern suburbs sceptics.  Preston made it to the Grand Final.  Joyce wasn’t meant to play.  He’d had his cheekbone smashed in the second-semi but played on through the Preliminary and was beyond stoic in the Grand Final. The Bullants won their first ever Division One flag.


I look back now and feel like a cheat.  I had followed my side for less than 6 months and was enjoying a premiership.  None of that mattered to a 7 year old.  We made it into the rooms where celebrations overflowed.  Amid the joyous chaos I shook the hands of Bruce Reid and Bob Heard. For years afterwards I kept the footy record from the day.  The front autographed by doctors Reid and Telford.


For my eighth birthday I received my second footy jumper.  Bright red, with a white PFC monograph.  My Mum had already sewn the number 2 of Bruce Reid on the back.  In one of Dips O’Donnell’s stories he wonderfully describes the chaotic footy practice matches overseen by the venerable coach, Mr Patto.  I wore my Bullant jumper to every one of Mr Patto’s sessions from Grade 4 to Grade 6. There was only ever one red jumper, amidst a sea of black and white, black and yellow, black and red and occasional hoops.  Mr Patto was a Burra man and looked disdainfully at my jumper, even as he patiently taught me to kick torpedos.


The first game against Port was another footy lesson.  Port fans were different. They seemed to have less teeth and drank beer from long necks.  Matches against them always had an extra edge and the crowd at Cramer St swelled by a few thousand. My Dad always worried when we were playing Port.


Despite the occasional threat of Burra violence and Allan Joyce’s continuing wobbly boot, my footy world kept getting better. In 1969 Preston overflowed with recruits and a bloke on the half back flank was the new star.  Laurie Hill came from Collingwood and immediately owned the back line at Cramer St.  A work mate once described the heyday of the VFA.  ‘Saw a game on the telly once. Laurie Hill vs Sandringham.’


1969 was a golden year.  Hill won the Liston medal, 3 votes ahead of Bruce Reid and Bob Heard won every tap out.  Preston took their second successive flag but so quickly then, the empire crumbled.  In the biggest tragedy since 1967 my Dad told me that Bob Heard was going to Collingwood and Bruce Reid would be coaching Research.  I was shattered.  In my 9 year old mind, it hadn’t quite dawned that the VFA was a like a footy half-way house.  Blokes were either coming down from somewhere or trying to get to somewhere else.


Preston quickly became ordinary and end of season tensions were now the threat of relegation.  Laurie Hill remained the beacon.  He was both the glue and star in a team of average players.  Preston went up and down over seasons as blokes continued their journeys to and from other places.  Hill won his second Liston medal and captained the 1971 Grand Final side (another whole story in that game).  In a blink they were fighting off relegation.


By the time Laurie Hill moved to Watsonia peanuts cost ’20 a bag’.  Sides with the most money were on the top.  Preston was like some kind of bad gambler.  They seemed to have money and stars some years and others were stony broke.


The other day the replay of the 1966 Grand Final was on the telly.  In those frenetic final moments Laurie Hill bursts through half back.  My affection for Hill surfaced and for a second I wished he could have gone all the way.  Then I remembered he was playing for Collingwood, the bastards that stole Bob Heard and ended my football innocence.

About Paul Quilty

A footy career of back pockets in good teams and forward pockets in ordinary teams. At various times wanted to be Polly Farmer, Laurie Hill, Victor Trumper, Midget Farrelly. Still want to be Midget. Have been known to hide in libraries for a living and play the fiddle to scare off neighbourhood cats.


  1. Thanks Paul, I could visualise what it must have been like back in the day. In my teens I used to go watch Port play and loved the old VFA games, we would never venture North back then however now I am a resident in Thornbury and I often go to Saturday arvo games at Cramer St just to touch base with real footy.

  2. PaulQuilty05 says

    Thanks Dave. Games against Port were always so tense. We only ever ventured to the Burra once. Surprised to find the fans not that scary.

  3. Bob Heard. He finished up back at Preston. jog my memory ; did he play in the Bullants. flag in 1983? They certainly did not win in either 1981 or 1082 as Port Melbourne got the trifecta.

    The Peanut Man, “Johnno”, was still selling his bags of peanuts for 20c in the 1980’s. He was a character of footy in that halcyon period. I couldn’t see him fitting in with the current corporate image.


  4. PaulQuilty05 says

    Thanks Glen. Don’t think Heard played in the 83 flag. Reckon Geoff Austen was in the ruck that year. You are right about the Corporate era. I’d love to do a peanut man impersonation at Etihad just to see how far I’d get before the heavies threw me out.

  5. Good on ya Paul. I forgot Geoff Austen played for the Bullants. I was there in 1980, 81 & 82, still have good recollection of the Burra line ups, but my memory of the Burger and Bullants lineups has faded. Gordon Towan; he played on Cookie both years? Shane Halas must have played in at least one of your GF sides.

    “Johnno”, the peanut man was an incon. The big sack of peanuts, all neatly parcelled jin paper bags, his voice, ‘ere ya Peanuts,’, booming out with his unkempt, nay dirty, appearance is the antithesis of 2016 AFL imagery. It was real people like him who made the game great.


  6. PaulQuilty05 says

    Thanks Glen,

    The late 70s and early 80s were tough years. Preston were losing enough Grand Finals to be the Collingwood of the VFA. You are right about Halas and Towan playing. The yet to be infamous John Bourke kicked 6 goals in the breakthrough flag in 83.

  7. Ta Paul. You can say one thing about John Bourke, he was a god kick !

    I won’t pretend my heart bled for Preston it certainly didn’t. We were far too good for anyone in 1981, the following season w e clicked at the right time, maybe the Bullants had a psychological block. Your victory over us in the 1978 second semi was not pleasant. I recall Preston jumping away to a six goal break. In the second term one of our backmen, and i can’t recall if it was Tony Haenan, Bob Proffitt or Paul Wharton spilt a mark in the Preston goal square after a Preston player had a shot for goal. It was given as goal to Preston !?! To put it neatly, WTF !?! Preston won by two points, the rest i is history.

    Aaah, sweet VFA. They were good days.


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