‘Derby Day Looms……’ by KB Hill

Think of sport’s great rivalries……..


Baseball’s Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees; Glasgow’s two ‘Old Firm’ soccer teams – Celtic and Rangers; the AFL’s famous antagonists Carlton and Collingwood; and Test cricket’s heavily-conflicted neighbours, India and Pakistan………..


Whenever each of them meet they wage something akin to open warfare.


Now, I know I’m drawing too long a bow when I lump this Sunday’s ‘Local Derby’ in the same category. But when the old foes – separated by just a laneway – are both up and about there’s that familiar sniff of hostility and animosity in the air…………….




It’s been going on for 72 years…….ever since the Rovers were granted admission to the Ovens and Murray League.



Suddenly the Magpies, who’d had exclusive access to most of the promising young local players wishing to play Major League footy, now had to compete with the ‘new boys’.


Bitterness was rife, as charges of ‘player pilfering’ and underhand recruiting tactics were laid by both sides.


Old-timers recount the passions which were elicited in the ‘50s, when the rough and tough stuff on the field of play was sometimes matched beyond the boundary by cantankerous spectators…….




The Rovers’ first coach was a burly ex-Hawthorn journeyman, Ken Bodger, who assumed his role just four weeks before their 1950 O & M debut.


Bodger was on a hiding to nothing, and was powerless to prevent Wang posting a 25.16 to 8.6 massacre over his undermanned charges. In the re-match later in the season the ‘Pies booted 11 goals in the last quarter, to win by 105 points.


An Historic day: Magpie Mac Holten and Hawk coach
Ken Bodger toos the coin for the first-ever Local Derby.



Bodger, of course, became the victim of his Club’s unrealistic expectations. After they registered just two points for the season (for a draw against Rutherglen ) he was ‘sacked’. But, to his credit, he served on the committee and played on with the Hawks for two more seasons.


Then he committed an ‘unforgivable’ sin. He crossed the laneway, in search of an elusive flag, and attracted the wrath of Rovers supporters when he stripped in Black and White.


“Boy, did I cop it !” he reflected years later. “People with whom I’d become closely attached, and established good friendships, turned on me, particularly when I collided with the new Rovers coach, Jock Herd the first time I played against the Hawks.”


Bodger finally realised his long-held premiership ambition the following year when he headed out to Greta as captain-coach. By that time the aura of the ‘Derby’ was gaining momentum……………


It was only compounded when the Hawks landed Bobby Rose as playing-coach. ‘Mr. Football’ had been in high demand and his signing was a major coup for the battling club. He agreed on a fee of 35 pounds per week.


One of the additional clauses inserted in his contract was that….’for a period of five years after its termination he was not allowed to play for, or coach, the Wangaratta Magpies. If he did he would be liable to re-imburse the Rovers 500 pounds by way of liquidated damages……..’


Rose also ignored the ‘warning’ from some quarters – no doubt a last-ditch attempt to dissuade him from taking the job – that the Rovers were a Catholic club.


His old Collingwood team-mate Mac Holten, who had enjoyed fabulous success in an eight-year term as Wangaratta’s coach, took up the pen upon retirement to cover matches for the Wangaratta Chronicle.


His description of an altercation between Rose and dashing ‘Pie forward Bob ‘Bushy’ Constable in one combustible encounter, irked the Hawk leader to such an extent that he rang Mac to complain about the bias in the article.


By way of protest he even stopped frequenting Holten’s Licensed Grocery. After all, he reasoned, half of Wangaratta was now boycotting his Sports Store after the grilling he’d received.


The Holten-Rose friendship was restored after a brief cooling-off period, but years later old Magpies still harked back to that incident………


The late ‘Hopper’ McCormick, one of the Magpies’ favourite sons, recalled the day he was handed the ‘hot potato’ of shadowing Rose in one of the champ’s early games.



It was a match which had already produced its fair share of fireworks. Out of the blue, ‘Hop’ reeled from a pack, and it was up to Wang’s Club Doctor, Howard Marks to attempt to revive him with a whiff of smelling salts.


His dad, a dead-keen supporter, took umbrage at ‘Hop’s’ treatment and tangled with some vocal Hawks; the result being that there were spot-fires raging on both sides of the fence. The timely arrival of the Police paddy-wagon restored peace among the warring spectators.


“I’m not sure whether it was Rosey or Ray Burns who collected me, but Bob paid me a visit a few days later to enquire of my health. It was a nice gesture and we became good mates,” ‘Hop’ said…………




Neville Hogan, a Rovers legend, and the only person to coach both clubs, can remember the feeling among supporters in the lead-up to the ‘Derby’.


“When I was playing we’d prepare for each game just like it was a Final. The tempo at training would increase, we’d have a Dinner on the Thursday night and outline our plans; everyone would be keyed up.”


Neville Hogan gets his kick away, in front of a large Local Derby crowd.



“For most of that time, both Clubs had strong sides and had some terrific battles. Bernie Killeen took 19 marks at centre half back to dominate one semi-Final….. I remember Des Steele giving me the run-around in another……and Ron Critchley kicking 1.9 against us in a tight Final which we won………”


Billy McMillan, who was an aggressive defender in his 116 games for Wangaratta, relished tangling with the Rovers.


“You always found a bit extra in those games,” he said.


McMillan’s swansong with the ‘Pies was the final round of 1987, when they defeated the Hawks and tipped them out of the finals. He’d played in five straight wins against the old enemy.


He then took a coaching job at Whorouly, but ventured down to see a ‘Derby’ game a couple of years later.


“I went over and sat near the scoreboard at the Rovers ground with my daughter. You know……keeping out of everyone’s way.”


“Something happened which displeased me and I muttered a few words. This bloke in the distance must have been sweating on me because he bellowed: ‘That’s right McMillan; you were a prick on the field and you’re no better off it.”………





Rick Marklew began with the Rovers in the mid-80’s. “When I started,” he says, “there were kids I went to school with who were playing with Wangaratta. You talked about it the week before the game, then chewed it over for a week after.”


“Wang had good sides in those days……the Mulrooney’s, Gary Voss, ‘Spud’ Adamo……’Spud’s clashes with Matt Allen were worth watching.”


Marklew’s cousin Robbie Richards, a long-serving player and ex-Magpie coach, agrees…..”There’s a real atmosphere when the teams meet. I reckon if you couldn’t find a bit extra in those games you never would.”


Alex Marklew, Sam Allen and Joe Richards – sons of guns – will all take part in Sunday’s ‘Derby’……..




Ken Boyd couldn’t disguise his dislike of the Black and White and thrived on the extra edge and atmosphere that the ‘Derby’ engendered. He succeeded Bob Rose as Rovers coach, and by 1964 had a side which looked every inch a premiership contender.


They won 15 games on the trot before stumbling, and dropping the last three home and home matches. Their form was no better in the second semi-final against Wangaratta, who proved too strong in a 14-point win at Barkly Park, Rutherglen.


Bernie Killeen had been a tower of strength in the Semi, but when the Hawks and ‘Pies met again in the Grand Final, Boyd sidled up alongside him.


As the last strains of the national anthem rang across the Albury Sportsground, Killeen lay spreadeagled on the turf.


Was it the heat, the occasion, or an errant elbow that had got to the star defender………?



Boyd was an inspirational player, and figured strongly in successive flag victories over Wangaratta. Even in 1966, when a back injury curtailed his movements, he was still able to make an impact.



But they began to creep back into the contest during an extraordinary third quarter. Mayhem ensued, as the game erupted in a series of flare-ups. Boyd was the catalyst in each of them.


The Hawks trailed by just one point at three-quarter time, but when sanity was restored Wang gradually wrested the initiative and went on to win by 25 points.


The curtain came down on Ken Boyd’s colourful career at the Tribunal hearing the following Wednesday evening, when he was handed a total of eight weeks suspension on four separate charges……..




The Magpies had to play second fiddle to the Hawks during the early 70’s, despite having a more than competitive line-up. They’d lost 11 ‘Derby’ clashes in a row before they cast their demons aside on a fateful late-September day in 1976.


Phil Nolan’s boys were simply irresistible in outpointing their opponents ( who were chasing their fifth flag in six years ) by 37 points. They proclaimed ‘Big Phil’ a coaching guru.


Many ‘Pie fans still become misty-eyed when they tell you that it was the greatest sporting day of their lives.


It’s said that soon after the siren, someone scaled the Wangaratta Police Station to pull down the Brown and Gold flag which had flown before and after the ‘Derbies’ of the ‘70’s. It was replaced with Black and White streamers………………




Football’s pendulum has swung wildly in the case of the local clubs during the modern era. The Pies are riding high at the moment…….the Hawks have again emerged as a Finals contender……….


The Clubs certainly wouldn’t want to re-visit the dark days of the late 90’s when they were both encountering troubled times.


The dreaded word ‘merger’ was even mentioned by some of the bar-flies around town.


Heaven forbid……..that would have been equivalent to the Orange and the Green joining forces in Northern Ireland…………


*Derby update: The clubs have met 153 times. The Rovers have won 94 games, Wangaratta have won 58, with one drawn.

Eds note: On 18th April, Wangaratta Rovers 14.12.96 d Wangaratta 12.10.82 at WJ Findlay Oval.



This story appeared first on KB Hill’s website On Reflection and is used here with permission. All photos sourced from KB Hill’s resources.


To read more of KB Hill’s great stories, click HERE.


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  1. Several good tales here, KB, and I’ll bet there are many more besides these.

    Is there a reader out there who can tell us a bit about the recent clash?

  2. Hayden Kelly says

    Great read KB

  3. This rivalry would make for a great footy book

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