Happy Anniversary Mr Zeuschner

Happy Anniversary Mr Zeuschner

Six matches into his senior coaching career and Brendan McCartney’s record stands at 2 wins and 4 losses. Upon his appointment last year McCartney became the 14th different man to take the coaching reigns at the Western Oval since the team last reached the season finale.  Saturday 23 September 1961 was the last time the boys from the Western Oval were required to make the short trip from Barkly Street to the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Grand Final day. A day that started so promisingly ended in tears, the relentless pressure applied by “Kennedy’s Commandos” saw Hawthorn overcome an eight point half time deficit to cruise to an easy seven goal victory, capturing the Hawks first VFL flag in the process.

Fast forward seven months to May 1962. Clyde Holding wins the by election for the Legislative Assembly seat of Richmond in the Victorian Parliament, Audrey Hepburn secures the role of Eliza Doolittle in the soon to be shot film version of “My Fair Lady and 1,700 pounds will put you behind the wheel of the new Volvo B18. Two weeks into the new VFL season and Footscray looked good things to go one better than the previous year’s “silver medal” result. A rabid home crowd of 30,762 saw the Dogs turn the tables on the reigning premier to record a 12.8-80 to 6.11-47 win on the opening day of the campaign, and seven days later they made it two from two with a 68 point win over the Lions at the Brunswick Street Oval. Reality slapped them square in the face on May 5 when 55,012 people witnessed Melbourne get one back on their 1961 Preliminary Final nemesis at the MCG, the Bullies 4.11-35 to 14.10-94 pounding made all the worse when Captain/Coach Ted Whitten sustained a knee injury early in the match.

The Footscray match committee swung the axe vigorously the following Thursday evening making five changes to the side that was embarrassed the previous weekend. Injuries to Whitten and Bob Ware meant they couldn’t be considered for selection for the upcoming visit of South Melbourne. John Quarrell, Ian Bryant and Bernie Dowling were all omitted following their less than adequate efforts against the Redlegs. The replacements included veterans Cam McDonald and Barry Smith, the remaining three inclusions would all make their senior VFL debuts. The first gamers included 17 year old Graeme Chalmers from local club Spotswood, George Savige, a 21 year old who’d joined the Dogs from Moe at the start of 1962, and at 23 years/168 day, the oldest of the trio of rookies, Murray Zeuschner.

In his two appearances for the Bulldogs seconds Zeuschner had managed to capture the eye of one well known Melbourne sports journalist. In his Tuesday 8 May article under the heading “Team changes for sure” The Sun News Pictorial’s Jack Dunn said “one new player (for Footscray) on Saturday could be 23 year old follower Murray Zeuschner, who has been playing on match permits from Stony Creek” Dunn added Zeuschner had been “fairly impressive” in his two outings for the Footscray reserves.

How the young man landed in the leading Australia football competition, let alone the Footscray Football Club is one of happenstance.  “My initial love was tennis. My brother Barry and sister Marlene were fine players. All three of us were members of the Stony Creek Tennis Club. At age 16 I represented the association in the Country Week Championships at Melbourne. The following year I enrolled at Geelong Teachers College. I played in their “A” grade tennis team, captaining them in my second year.  Tennis wasn’t the only sporting discipline he excelled in at a young age. “I represented the College at the combined Victorian Teachers College athletics championships at the Melbourne University during my first year there. My event was the high jump. I cleared 6 feet – my leap broke a record set 27 years earlier. I joined Geelong Guild Athletics Club, our most notable member being the great John Landy. I travelled to Olympic Park every Saturday competing against the likes of Colin Ridgway and Tony Sneazwell – both Olympians.

After completing his studies he undertook National Service Training at Puckapunyal, rising to the rank of Bombardier. His first teaching assignment was at Horsham Primary School. During his stint in the Wimmera he played for local powerhouse, the Horsham Football Club. Around the same time a youngster by the name of Doug Wade commenced his journey toward footballing immortality with the Demons third eighteen. “I was transferred back to Melbourne (Williamstown North Primary) mid way through the school year, so I completed the football year by travelling home each weekend to play with my original club, Stony Creek. The following season I won the club Best and Fairest, taking out the Leagues Best Player award the year after that. I received invitations to train with VFL clubs Geelong and Melbourne but declined both offers”.

So rather than pursue a dream of representing his country at the Olympic Games, or perhaps venturing out onto the centre court at Wimbledon, Murray Zeuschner found himself at the Western Oval. How?  “In early 1962 I was approached by Footscray Football Club selectors Arthur Edwards, Bill Mobbs and Jack Sparks to participate in pre-season training. I accepted and made the final list. As my clearance hadn’t been finalised I was required to apply for a number of match permits to play in the reserves”.

Zeuschner learned of his promotion to the seniors the way many players did in the early 60’s. “I heard about it on radio. The following day I received telegrams from family, friends, former team mates and one from the Stony Creek Football Club”. South Melbourne’s season, its first under rookie coach Noel McMahen, mirrored that of their Round 4 opponent. The Bloods captured back-to-back six point victories against North Melbourne and St Kilda in its opening two encounters before 29,840 spectators crammed into the cosy confines of the Lakeside Oval to see Collingwood lead at every change and record a 44 point win in Round Three. On the morning of the May 12 clash the Dogs were forced to make a late change. Grand final wingman Alec Gardiner, suffering the effects of an infected throat, was replaced by Ray Baxter with first gamer Savige taking Gardiner’s place in the starting line-up.

Zeuschner admits to having a few butterflies in the tummy prior to taking the field “I was uptight before the game. (Coach) Ted Whitten told me and fellow debutant Graeme Chalmers to go upstairs for a game of snooker to calm our nerves. I ran out in front of 25,000. It was quite daunting”.  Unfortunately he wasn’t afforded a settling in period. “My initial memory of the game was setting myself for mark. South Melbourne ruckman Frank Johnson came from behind and almost out marked me. Not long after that I was on hands and knees in our goal square surrounded by South Melbourne forwards. Charlie Evans (Footscray back pocket) called for the ball and somehow I managed to get it to him. He cleared the ball downfield”.

The hosts were wasteful early and should have been further ahead than the 16 point break (3.7 to 1.3) it enjoyed at the completion of the first term. By half-time the Swans had reduced the margin to a goal, trailing 6.6 to 6.12. Four goals from Bulldog rover Merv Hobbs headlined an eight goal to one third quarter effort, the home side taking a 48 point lead to the final break (14.14 to 7.8). Both teams added three goals apiece during the final period, and when the final siren sounded the scoreboard at the Barkly Street end read Footscray 17.17-119 – South Melbourne 10.11-71. Hobbs, with a career high eight goals, was the unanimous best-on-ground amongst media scribes, his South Melbourne counterpart Bobby Skilton lead the way for the visitors with four goals. First gamer Chalmers, who would later serve in the Vietnam War as part of the RAAF, kicked two goals.

Five decades after making his first appearance in the Victorian Football League I asked Zeuschner of his recollections of his debut. “The pace of the game was amazing, in particular the speed in which the ball moved. The pressure was intense; all decisions had to be made in a split second”. One of nine players to make their senior debut for Footscray in 1962, he appeared in thirteen of the Dogs final fourteen games for the season. An eleven win/seven loss record was identical to the one it sported twelve months earlier. Unfortunately the Dogs fell eight premiership points short of qualifying for their second consecutive finals series finishing the year in fifth position.

Finding the grind of the twice weekly training sessions a drain on his stamina, (he weighed in at a relatively light 79kilograms during his debut season) Zeuschner embarked on a weight training program during the off season, quite revolutionary when you consider pre-season training in the early 60’s consisted of running a few laps of the oval a month before the season proper commenced. “Prior to joining Footscray football training was basic, except for the short period I spent at Horsham in the Wimmera League. I added 8 kilograms as a result of the weight training program. I became much stronger”. The additional muscle held him in good stead considering the quality ruckmen he faced during his six years in League football. “I had the privilege of playing against some of the greatest ruckmen in the history of the VFL/AFL – Nicholls and Farmer were named as ruckmen in the AFL Team of the century, Carl Ditterich was a superb athlete. Len Thompson & Noel Teasdale won Brownlow Medals, Neville Crowe and Ray Gabelich were giants. Essendon’s Don McKenzie was an incredibly tough opponent”. Zeuschner speaks highly of his teammate, fellow ruckman and 1960 Brownlow Medallist John Schultz, thanking him for the great support he provided during his rookie year at the Western Oval “He acted as a mentor giving me tips on how to compete against various opponents, the advice was invaluable. John’s willingness to give me equal time on the ball was much appreciated”

Sadly the Dogs fifth place finish in his first season would be as close as Zeuschner would get to taste a VFL finals series during his five and a bit year tenure in Red, White and Blue. A 7-11 record saw them end 1963 ninth, a break even 9-9 good enough for seventh in 1964. Zeuschners final two seasons at the Kennel saw the Dogs post a pair of 4 /14 returns for a 10th place finish both years.  I asked him about the huge turnover of players at Footscray during his first four seasons at the Western Oval – within four years of playing off for the premiership, only four players (Ted Whitten, John Jillard, Ian Bryant and John Schultz) from the Dogs ’61 Grand Final side remained at the Western Oval. “Many players left the club during my time there. Whilst Bob Spargo, The Ion brothers (Graeme and Barry) and John Hoiles left for financial reasons, most players departed as a result of being de-listed”.

Despite the clubs mediocre record during the mid 60’s Zeuschner managed to play alongside a number of champions. Teammates such as Whitten, Schultz, Jillard and George Bissett were named in the Bulldogs Team of the Century when it was announced in 2002. It’s the diminutive 168 centimetre tall Bissett he remembers most fondly “The outstanding rover of my time at Footscray was George Bissett – I thought we had a great understanding as ruckman/rover. Despite his small stature he was elusive, creative and courageous. He had a great goal sense, and should’ve won a Brownlow”.

With the arrival of 18 year old Gary Dempsey at the Western Oval at the start of the 1967 season Zeuschner sensed his opportunities would be limited and sought greener pastures. “In February 1967 I was made a tempting offer to join VFA club Sandringham. I met with their President Ian MacKenzie and Secretary Frank Levens. They offered me $50 a game which was quite enticing considering I was receiving $8 a win and $6 a loss at Footscray. Due to my age (28) the financial lure, and the opportunity to play football with my brother Barry, I applied for a clearance”. Whilst his initial request was denied, the Zebras would get their man later that season.  On May 27 1967 Murray Zeuschner made his final senior appearance in the VFL. In front of just 10,280 paying customers at the Arden Street Oval, North Melbourne 7.13-55 defeated Footscray 6.6-42. Despite being named amongst his sides best players that afternoon, it would be the last time he would take the field in the Number 1 jumper for the Doggies.

On Sunday June 11, in front of a healthy Beach Road Oval crowd of 6,000, Zeuschner made his debut for Sandringham against Yarraville, the Zebras recording an 11.19-85 to 9.13-67 victory.  The Eagles team at the time consisted of a number of his former Bulldog team mates such as John Charles, Barrie Beattie and Peter Castrickum.   “It was strange initially. I had to acquaint myself with my new teammates, as well as adapting to the 16 man-a-side competition which made for a more open contest”. Whilst the dozen games he played during the second half of the ’67 season would be the sum of his career in the VFA, Zeuschner managed to take out the Zebra’s best and fairest award. “I played 12 games for Sandringham, winning the Best and Fairest award on a count back from former Richmond player Roy Selleck.

An 11 win, 7 loss third place finish saw Sandringham make a swift return to post season play after missing out the previous season (Sandy qualified for finals every year of the 60’s with the exception of the 1966 season). Tragedy struck prior to the commencement of the finals when brilliant Centre Half Back Paul Ladds was killed in a car accident. The 22 year old Ladds had finished runner up to Waverley’s Alan Poore in the Liston Trophy the previous year, a feat he would achieve posthumously a few weeks later, finishing in second place behind Coburg’s Jim Sullivan. After accounting for Preston in the First Semi Final (14.16-100 to 13.12-90) Sandringham’s run came to an end a fortnight later in the Preliminary Final at the Punt Road Oval, the Zebras bowing out of the race for the flag at the hands of the eventual premier Dandenong (11.15-81 to 15.10-100) The match also brought a premature end to the football career of Murray Zeuschner.

“The Preliminary Final was my last game of football at any level. Early in the game Dandenong Captain/Coach Alan Morrow tackled me and my knee collapsed. The injury was severe enough to necessitate three operations and ended my playing career. The tragic loss of Paul Ladds and my injury were significant factors in Sandringham failing to win the flag that year”. Two operations to remove the damaged cartledge from his knee followed, neither allowing him to return to a level of fitness that would permit him to return to the playing field. Sadly for Zeuschner relief from the pain that resulted from the injury in the ’67 Preliminary Final was a dozen years away. “In 1979 I was given a referral to see Orthopaedic surgeon John Grant. Grant had previously performed successful knee surgery on North Melbourne champions Keith Greig and David Dench. Following the surgery my knee never felt better”.

After teaching at a number of Primary Schools such as Brooklyn, Horsham, Port Melbourne and Williamstown North, Zeuschners career as an educator came to end in 1969. “I ran newsagencies for more than a decade after I finished teaching, initially in Northcote, then in Mt Eliza. I was involved in Property Development and Insurance. My last job was working as a Financial Advisor which I did for 8 years prior to retiring in December 2010”.  Apart from attending the odd game Zeuschners interest in the AFL and the Bulldogs in particular, is limited to following the game on television. “Travelling (from Mt Eliza) to games is a little difficult. I’ve been a member in recent years, and enjoyed attending the Past Players Reunions”

This weekends eighth Round of AFL Football for season 2012, Saturday May 12 to be precise, will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his senior debut for a team then playing under the moniker of Footscray. Appropriately their 21st century incarnation, the Western Bulldogs, take on North Melbourne, the opposing team when he ran out for his 64th and final game in Red, White and Blue almost 45 years ago.  If May 1962 seems like a long time ago, it’s because it is.

Happy “Golden” anniversary Mr Zeuschner.


Many thanks to Murray Zeuschner for his time and patience in making this piece possible.


  1. Great reminiscence. The list of greats Murray rucked against is awesome. Who wrote this piece? Clyde Holding, Audrey Hepburn and the Volvo B18 are an appropriately wired combination. The mention of the Ion brothers sent me back in time. Crio will doubtless remember 5AD’s Bazz (Ion) and Pilko dominating brekky radio in Adelaide in the seventies. Together with their alter ego – Peter Plus. I think Bazz left the Bulldogs to come to SA to play for Woodville.

  2. Rocket Nguyen says

    Really enjoyed this piece – great to read of footy in the 60s.

    The Zeuschners were a well-regarded Stony Creek family that my father knew quite well from his time growing up in Dollar. Was Murray’s mother a school teacher too?

    A familiar theme about players leaving the big league for financial reasons. Curly Ion went up to coach Deniliquin the Murray League, Bob Spargo (father of Paul, who is now coaching Scots College U 14s in Albury) to coach West Perth, and Johnny Hoiles to coach Corowa in the Ovens & Murray

  3. Mic Rees says

    Peter – This is my handywork. Whilst I have no idea who “Admin” is, I can inform you they had nothing to do with the writing or research that went into this piece. I’ll be contacting my legal team first thing Monday morning to seek advice. Thank you very much for your kind words, they are much appreciated.

    Barry Ion’s last season at the Western Oval was 1965. He spent a year (’66) with Yarraville, finishing third in that years Liston (behind Poore & Ladds). Was unavailable for the Eagles 1st Semi Final clash with Preston due to his radio commitments with 3KZ, where I believe he called matches with Harry Beitzel and Rod McLeod. McLeod worked with “Baz” at 5AD. Yarraville lost by two points. Ion & the injured Merv Hobbs missed the game, they may have made the difference. Had two years with the Peckers – Not sure if Blighty or Huppatz would’ve been teammates – any idea ?

    Rocket – Thank you. I’ll be speaking to Murray some time this week, I’ll ask him what his Ma’s occupation was and get back to you. Glad you mentioned Bob Spargo – recruited from Braybrook – Go the ‘Brookers.



  4. Cow Shed end says

    Once again Mic, a great read,always reckon he had a great name Zeuschner, my long departed dad took me to his last game at Arden st, i reckon there would have been about 500 Norf supporters there.
    The Ion brothers played cricket for Footscray Colts in the FCA along side journo Michael Stevens.
    Also brings back some great memories of a couple of favourites of mine Johnny Jillard(RIP) and Ian (the water rat) Bryant.

  5. Mic Rees says

    CSE – Many thanks as always. We probaly could’ve fit everyone into Arden Street yesterday

    Did Ken Eastwood go to Colts following his District/Sub District career?

    John Jillard – 189 games/, 1 goal. Similar career stats to the great Wally Donald 205 games/1 goal.

    Both scored their one and only goal against the Saints. Ian Bryant coached Geelong West in the late 60’s/early 70’s. His replacement, Bill Goggin, coached the Roosters to a perfect 20-0 (inc finals) in 1972 in 2nd Division.


  6. Rick Eldridge says

    Love the VFL VFA stories, esp when u thrown in the current day ‘Clyde Holding’ type descriptions, really good article. I enjoy the MCR articles, tbey always manage to make me think of good old days with my Dad, thanks. The Murray Z article is another ripper, I saw Wee Georgie (played his best footy at the Pies of course just like Laurie S) on the Grookers a while back and he said he actually rated Mr Z as the best ruckman he ever roved to – not a bad rap that. Must have been a hell of a few games he played the year hewon the B&F at Sandy. Cheers, RE.

  7. Mic is great…and obviously happy his Borough won in Darwin today.
    btw…Willy play Coburg at the Western Oval tomorrow (Sunday)

  8. Ebony Zeuschner says

    I have read through this article whilst actually trying to find one of my other relatives (Wally Zeuschner who was the coach for Cliff Young). It is amazing to think I am related to all of these people that have earnt a name for themselves. This just makes me proud to be a Zeuschner.

  9. David Cousins says

    Loved the article I remember the games @ sandy oval with the the day Skilton & Barassi played for Port Melbourne against Sandy attracting 10,000 spectators.. The point I would like to make that Paul Ladds was an extraordinary young man working at that time as a full time Youth worker and having an amazing influance on a lot of young people which was evident on the day of his funeral with the enormous numbers to pay their respect. Next September it is 50 years after the death of a very special human being, God bless Paul Ladds

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