‘Louie’s 87…….And Still Kicking……’ – by K B Hill

Roma Cesa reckons her husband Lou is still mentally playing footy – even at the ripe old age of 87.

 

“He watches every game on telly. I’ll look across, and there he’ll be, twitching in the Lounge Chair, kicking and flicking out imaginary handballs.”

 

“It’s the same when we go down to watch the Magpies play. He can’t sit still. It’s as if he’s out on the ground. I say: ‘Lou, you’re not playing any more, remember’. His one true love is football. I take a back seat,“ she quips………..

 

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Hardly any of the current Maggies would recognise this reserved little fellah with the swarthy complexion and the trademark peaked-cap. He and Roma sit behind the goals at the Women’s Industries end of the Norm Minns Oval – have done for more than 50 years.

 

He’s declined offers to move to more salubrious surrounds; and maybe sample a bit of the Club’s upstairs hospitality. He’s comfortable there, he says, and doesn’t fancy too much fuss.

 

“I like doing my own thing. I can criticize if I want to…..and no-one will hear me.”

 

Louie’s from a Golden Era. In his day he was as good as any small defender going around. But he won’t have a word said against the modern game. “I love it; can’t get enough of it.”

 

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His is the classic story of a lad, born of immigrant parents, who completely embedded themselves in the local community.

 

His Dad sailed to Australia from the tiny, mountain village of Lentia in Northern Italy, in 1927; Mum followed four years later.

 

After settling in Melbourne, then Gippsland, ‘Pop’ landed a job out at the Glenrowan Quarry, smashing rocks. It was a tough old gig. Lou still has the sledgehammer he used; says you need to be a muscle-man to lift it.

 

After they settled in Wang, the old fellah used to ride his bike out to a block he’d bought at the foot of the Warbies, and cut wood all day.

 

Lou was born at York’s, a Private Hospital just over the Railway line in Rowan Street. It was merely a hop, step and jump to transport him home – the Cesa’s lived just up the road, in Green Street.

 

Nor was it necessary to travel far for work when he started as an apprentice joiner at R.M.Clayton’s.  He was 15 when he rode to their factory in Mackay Street…….. And that’s where he was to spend the entirety of his working life.

 

“I started off on 22 shillings and sixpence, and had to hand over a bit of board and pay off my bike out of that. The next year I got a rise to two pounds 13 and fourpence. I’ve still got that bike, you know.”

 

On the day he retired, his mum, who was 95 at the time, was invited to his farewell barbecue. It was her first visit to her son’s workplace of 50 years. “She didn’t know the building existed, and marvelled at the size of the machines that cost me some of my fingers,” he says……..

 

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When Lou was growing up, the Wangaratta Junior League comprised just four clubs. They’d introduced a zoning system and, as he was living near the middle of town, Centrals became his club, in 1946.

 

They were starved of success in his first couple of years. Yet, completely against the odds, they took out the ‘47 flag. I’ll let Lou explain it.

 

“We didn’t win any of the home-and-away games, and were stone motherless last. Then we happened to take out the First-Semi, Prelim and, amazingly, the Grand Final…… You’ll have to take my word for this, as I’m pretty sure I’m the only one still alive from that side.”

 

The next step in his football journey was to try his luck with Wangaratta. It was 1949, and the seeds of the Magpies’ greatest era had already been sown. The great Mac Holten had arrived to take over as coach, and duly implemented a play-on style of game which was to prove fabulously successful.

 

Along with many other Junior League graduates, Lou became a member of the Reserves team, which played in the Benalla-Tungamah League.

 

“I remember buying my first pair of boots at Jack Ferguson’s Shoe Store, and getting old Maurie Adair to hammer some stops in them. Nine times out of ten the stops would be gone by half-time,” he says.

 

“We’d travel out by bus to places like Devenish, Tungamah, Dookie and Wilby. It was a side of kids, really, but a pretty good standard. We reckoned some of those blokes trained by kicking bags of wheat around. For instance, you had the Lane brothers from St. James who were built like Sherman Tanks. It was tough footy….and great experience for us.”

 

The trips back to Wang were rollicking affairs, and Lou admits he’d often be coaxed into providing a rendition of his favourite song: ‘China Doll’.

“When we got home we’d wind down by having a few beers,  then go to the local dance at the Town Hall….a few of the older ones would go square-dancing.”

 

Mid-way through 1951 he was blooded for four senior games with the ‘Pies. The following season he cemented a permanent spot .

 

Wang were chasing their fourth flag on the trot, but Rutherglen, coached by ex-Essendon rover Greg Tate, had set the pace for most of the year.

 

They pipped the Pies by 7 points in the Second-Semi. The decider a fortnight later was a topsy-turvy encounter, with the lead changing several times.

 

Wang wrestled their way to a seven-point lead at lemon-time, but finished on strongly, to run out winners by 20 points.

 

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Lou had entrenched himself in defence, and performed capably on a back flank in the Grand Final. It was, he admits, hard to get his head around being part of this team of champions.

 

He was now a key member of the Wangaratta side. When the O & M met East Perth at Albury two years later, there he was in a back pocket.

 

The following season he represented the Black and Gold in the first-ever Country Championship Carnival, joining such stars of the game as Jack Jones, Timmy Robb and Lance Mann. The side contained eight players who were on the verge of graduating to VFL ranks.

 

O & M proved too strong for Ballarat in the Final, with the Age reporting that: ‘… Sandral (back flank) and Cesa (back pocket) were crucial factors in the victory, and were responsible for repelling many Ballarat attacks….’

 

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Wangaratta reached another Grand Final later that year, meeting North Albury in a memorable encounter .

 

Lou’s main focus was on the enviable task of keeping Hopper coach Tim Robb in check . “He and North’s full forward Lester Yensch were the danger-men,” he recalls.

Yensch booted a near-impossible goal mid-way through the final term, then Wang’s Lance Oswald marked superbly, and replied, to narrow the margin to four points. Suddenly, a fiendish gale blew up, with a storm erupting over the ground.

 

North’s Arthur Pickett, almost from the centre of the Rovers ground, booted a goal with the aid of the hefty breeze. In heavy rain, the Hoppers were content to play out time and hold their 10-point advantage to the siren.

 

Lou featured in his second O & M flag in 1957 – a classic contest against old rivals Albury – which looked to have slipped from their grasp in the dying stages.

 

The Tigers held a comfortable lead at three quarter-time, but Wang slowly bridged the gap. With just one minute remaining, Lance Oswald snapped accurately from the angle, to see his side take out a sensational game by two points.

 

“That was Lou’s best-ever game for Wangaratta, I reckon,” says his old team-mate Bill Comensoli. “ He was named on a wing, opposed to Reggie Gard, who was one of Albury’s important players. He held sway all day.”

 

“I remember the siren blowing and all the emotion that overflowed,” Lou recalls. “Albury’s Jim Robison was that disappointed that he turned and whacked Rex Allen, who was standing beside him. Poor old Rex happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time.”

 

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The 1958 season proved to be Lou’s last as a player. His legs had been playing up, and he’d been operated on to drain blood from them. Doctor Phillips, and the surgeon, Hal Stanistreet, both recommended that he give it away before he finished up a cripple.

He’d married that year…….“Yes, he also had a nagging wife telling him to give it up,” jokes Roma…….

 

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Lou coached Junior League club Combined Churches for a few years in the sixties, and took them to the 1967 premiership. Three of the side – Geoff Welch, ‘Manny’ Booth and Russell Stone – were to play in O & M flags in the seventies. A few others had handy careers.

 

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When his own two boys, Ian and Colin, became of age they stripped for Centrals. Roma says that when it was her turn to wash the Club’s Brown and Gold guernseys, she had to drape them on the fence.

 

One of the neighbors – a keen Rovers man – asked why she didn’t hang them on the clothes-line:

 

“Lou won’t let me!” she replied.

 

Ian and Col both followed in their old man’s footsteps and went on to play senior footy with the Pies.

 

The Cesa’s also had three girls – Cheryl, Karen and Joanne. Sadly, Cheryl suffered an inoperable brain aneurism and passed away, aged 33, after being on Life-Support at the Alfred Hospital for some time.

 

“It was a sad time. You never forget it,” Roma recalls. “We cared for three of her kids for about three years, before their dad took them back. It hurt us when they left…..We wish we’d kept them.”

 

Lou and Roma headed over to Italy a few years ago, and made acquaintance with many of the Cesa clan in Lentia. They were treated like, well, long-lost relations, and had a whale of a time.

 

Just the same, it was great to get back home. After all, Lou was missing his footy…………….

 

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This story first appeared on KB Hill’s website, www.kbonreflection.wordpress.com on June 20, 2019.
You can read more of KB Hill’s wonderful tales by clicking here.

Comments

  1. Pamela Sherpa says

    What a wonderful , interesting article.

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