Local Footy: No shortage of characters in Bendigo footy

By Richard Jones

IT SHOULD come as no surprise to footy followers that our unique Australian code draws plenty of ‘characters’ to weekly matches.

Here in central Victoria we have attracted, and continue to attract, our fair share. Over a period of three decades I’ve seen quite a few.

Every club has a character or three among its ranks. The most colourful and most enduring to the memory are those who support their club passionately. I don’t mean the sort who gob off week in-week out at the umpires. Any galah can do that.

I mean the people who make a pithy comment at appropriate moments, or who demonstrate a deft ability to be able to sum up a situation in a few, short words.

Here’s a selection of some of the people I’ve seen first hand and indeed eyeball-to-eyeball in some cases.

RAY “BLUEY’’ WATTS: an enduring symbol of the Eaglehawk Football and Netball Club’s fortunes – good, bad or middling.

Bluey was a trainer at the Borough when I first started watching the Two Blues and my favorite memory is his outburst at the QEO in the ’80s.

Tough Eaglehawk on-baller Alan Williams had the nickname Bruiser.  South Bendigo centreman Gary Cowling was also known as Bruiser, but his moniker was not as universally known as Williams’.

Bruiser, said Bluey scornfully as Cowling hit the deck just in front of the Eaglehawk boundary line brains trust. “There’s only one Bruiser and you ain’t him!”

HARRIE SIMS: the long-time BFL clearance and Tribunal secretary. Apart from an idiosyncratic spelling of his Christian name, Harrie was a character at Monday night Tribunal hearings.

Before the panel chairman could conduct a roll call of the alleged strikers, strikees, umpires and witnesses for that evening’s proceedings, Harrie would assemble them all — umpires excepted — on the verandah of the old Weeroona Oval official rooms.

He’d give them a rundown on the seriousness of collusion and collaboration when his back was turned. Those on the verandah were suitably chastened and keen to exit the premises as soon as possible. Their long faces bore testimony to Harrie’s less than gentle ministrations.

DR WALLY McGREGOR: the official Northern United F.C. medico.

It wasn’t so much what Wally said, although he could be quite amusing, but what he did that I’ll never forget.

The Swallows’ gun centre half-forward Gavin Exell was on crutches on the Monday leading up to a mid-1980s grand final. He might even have had a plaster sheath covering an injured leg.

All of us in the media were convinced Exell had no chance of playing in that weekend’s grand final so we wrote and said as much in the local print and electronic outlets.

Guess what happened on grand final day? Yep, there was Exell in all his glory, marking everything and kicking goals. As United won the premiership.

Wally had effected if not a miracle cure, one that went pretty close.

[Exell, of course, also played for Geelong and Fitzroy until a serious eye injury curtailed his VFL/AFL career. He played country footy in Northern Victoria and Central Victoria until well into his 40s.]

JUDITH HALL: as Bluey Watts is to Eaglehawk, Judith is to Sandhurst. She follows the Dragons with a passion that still endures.

She knows all the players in the club, and has a particular love for the under-18s. Judith is always on hand to help out at half-time afternoon teas in the Hurst rooms under the QEO grandstand.

Woe betide an opposition player who bumps, let alone flattens, one of her beloved Dragons.  She’ll bustle out from the little tunnel leading to the Sandhurst rooms.

“You dirty mongrel,” is her favourite line, and to Judith’s credit I must say I’ve never heard her use any profanity no matter how stirred up she gets.

DICK TURNER, 3BO BROADCASTER: a jolly, rotund little man- behind-the-mike who loved his local footy deeply.

Dick’s biggest problem was that everyone knew he barracked for Golden Square, After all, he was a revered member of the Square Fire Brigade just down the road from the Wade Street oval and clubrooms.

The Eaglehawk faithful used to bucket Dick whenever the 3BO team went to Canterbury Park to call a game. So he had this specially rehearsed line to help appease some of the rabid Two Blues followers.

“Here we are at beautiful Canterbury Park in Eaglehawk — in the Borough, where they’re born with a football boot on one leg and a dahlia between their teeth,” he’d say. Fairly frequently, too.

A dahlia? Well, Eaglehawk stages an annual Dahlia and Arts Festival through its streets every March, and Dick, as a city councillor and Mayor of Bendigo, certainly knew his festival calendar.

One time we had to call an inter-league match between Bendigo and Northern District at the giant Cohuna Oval. The only way up to the commentary position was through an aperture similar to the hatch on a submarine conning tower.

After much hefting and shoving from the ladder below, Dick’s ample rear quarters were finally levered through the opening. He didn’t bother coming down until the match was over!


  1. pauldaffey says

    Love it, Richard.

    During the early ’90s, there was a handful of Golden Square supporters who gathered every week on the wing under the social rooms at Wade Street. Whenever Alan Paterson, the ruckman and captain and one of the great leaders of a country footy club, went near the ball, they said, “Go Patto,” dragging out the “o” for a little longer than necessary. It wasn’t particuarly funny on its own, but when you hear “Go Patto” dozens of times in an afternoon it starts to become amusing.

    I loved the tales of the Kyneton boys playing cards in Tony Kelly’s pub. Bobby Beare, Shane Muir, various Tiger legends of the ’80s and ’90s … apparently they played on Sundays for hours at a time.

    No, I don’t know what game they played. Might drop in to the bar at some stage and ask a few questions.

  2. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rocket says

    Great stuff Richard!

    Dick Turner is by far and away the best caller I’ve ever heard in the country.
    Certainly the most colourful.

    Recall one time that he was calling a match at Rochester against Echuca when the obligatory fight broke out.
    He turned to co-commentator and 3BO morning announcer Russ Pilley: “You call the footy, and I’ll call the fight!”

  3. daff,

    The name of the card game was 7 and a half.The 8s,9s,and 10s are removed from the pack. The picture cards are worth a half.
    The dealer sets the pot. (i.e $20) The local rule was if you put in $20 as the dealer you could take the pot after playing everyone in the deal. If under $20 you had to go once through the pack.
    The dealer then deals one card face down to each player. He looks at the card and calls his bet on the pot. It maybe guts and sit. (player will have a 7 normally or bluffing with a 3.) The deal thens turns over his card and can take as many as he wants to call the players hand. He only has to draw with the player to win. So if the dealer pulls 3, jack (half),then a four he wins with 7 and a half. The player throws in his money and the dealer continues. this time with $40 in the middle. The player can fold and the game moves on till the dealers bust or he can pull out.
    In winters at Kellys the games could start as early as 9.30 and still be going at 8 at night. There were no fights the boys drunk together and if you won a pot and someone was down you would get snipped and same if they won and you were out.
    Of the players there was Vin Szabo always lucky it seemed. He was also known as trumps Szabo for if a game euchre started before the cash he always had them.
    Bobby Beare was a theory man he would throw cards thatothers bet because they were unlucky to him and he always thought he could read players.
    Shane Muir was just plain unlucky but when on song was great to see him in action. He would have texta marks of transactions all up his arm.
    Rattles was full of bluff and mouth but all the players would pop in and have a look at was going on over the course of the day.
    Tony Kelly would have the boys on the 6 ounce glasses and the shout could be anywhere up to 20 at times. Some with lime or raspberry cordial in to get over night before. The fly by nighters were pinned preety quick the next time they leave the shout without buying.
    The footy trip was to Adelaide and organs bus would have the back seats changed around to make room for the card table. One year i was up $800 at bordertown and got off in Adelaide with $120 left for the weekend. Shane would always buy a bag of carrots at Ararat we don’t know why.

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