Martin Flanagan’s speech to the Grassroots Sports Club in Hobart, Spring 2019.

 

Martin Flanagan delivered this speech in Hobart last weekend for the Grassroots Sports Club at a function to raise money to buy sports equipment for disadvantaged kids.

 It is a timely look at Tasmanian footy.

 

 

 In 2009, I wrote a book with Matthew ‘Richo’ Richardson,

formerly of the East Devonport, Devonport and Richmond Football Clubs.

One thing we agreed on big time:

the best footy jumper ever was the old Tassie jumper.

Its colours were originally listed as “myrtle, magenta and primrose”.

A poem of sorts.

I’d describe the Tassie colours this way:

Green like a paddock on the north-west coast after rain

red like passion,

Yellow like late afternoon light in the eucalypts on the scoreboard side of the ground

 

 

At Longford where I saw my first game as a kid of five or six,

Hearing the game before I saw it,

A hoarse, earthy excitement

Otherwise unknown in a quiet country town.

 

 

Dad coached Longford Under 19s in the early 1950s.

The core of his team went on to win the senior State premiership in 1957.

A town of 1500 people knocked off the big teams from Launceston and Hobart.

I heard stories about that as a kid.

I heard stories about Horrie Gorringe ,

The champion rover from Cygnet

who won the best and fairest at the 1924 national carnival.

People talked about Horrie Gorringe like they talked about Laurie Nash.

Dad saw Nash play for City-South in 1930 before he went to South Melbourne.

Played centre-half forward with the wind, centre-half back against it,

and, come cricket season, opened the bowling for Australia.

That’s what Tasmanian footy is to me.

A story I’m part of,

a story that’s part of me.

 

 

Dad’s father, the grandson of a convict,

was president of the Cleveland Football Club.

Dad lived to be nearly 100.

His idea of a big club as a kid was Campbell Town.

Victorian football was no more than a paragraph in the Sunday papers.

My grandfather couldn’t write more than his name,

but he knew a good footballer when he saw one.

He saw Ivor Warne-Smith play for Latrobe.

Warne-Smith had been at Gallipoli,

had lost two brothers on the western front,

and been given a returned soldier’s land grant outside Latrobe.

He had a kick one day at the cattle sales,

got talked into playing for Latrobe,

later won two Brownlow medals with Melbourne.

My grandfather only came to Hobart once in his life.

That was to see Warne-Smith lead the North West Football Union

against the hated TFL at North Hobart oval.

Warne-Smith was injured early,

the Union lost,

That’s how the story came down to me.

Then this year, 90 years after the event, I read in a newspaper that they won.

The Union won!

Mum would have loved that story.

She barracked for the Union.

Before World War I, one of her uncles, a young man of 21, lay dying from a leaking heart.

His brother went to a grand final between Ulverstone and Devonport with two pigeons,

one to send home the half-time score, the other the final result.

Mum believed footy was about loyalty.

She went to her death hating Carlton

Because 40 years earlier Carlton’s Wes Lofts (she called him “big, dirty Wes Lofts”)

hit Peter Hudson and Peter Hudson was Tasmanian.

I saw Huddo wear the red, yellow and green.

 

 

My father-in-law played his football on the West Coast,

Miners’ footy, 14-a-side, played on Sundays.

He remembers a grand final at Zeehan played in a blizzard of ice and rain.

The umpire officiated in an army great coat.

Williamsford refused to retake the field after half-time.

It was remembered as the premiership Rosebery won by 7 points and a half.

I lived in Rosebery as a boy of eight and nine,

Saw the four Queenstown clubs – Lyell, City, Gormanston and Smelters.

Ian Stewart came from Gormanston,

won two Brownlow medals with St Kilda and one with Richmond.

He sat beside me once on a plane,

told me he got into 12 fights while he was at St Kilda

and that Darrell Baldock finished 11 of them.

Darrell Baldock – the Doc – always described when I was growing up

As the best footballer to come out of Tasmania,

extremely skilful low to the ground,

controlled it with his hands, patting it through their legs,

strong and brave over the ball.

They hit him with everything.

But as I saw when the Doc returned to Tasmania to play,

He could handle himself with rare proficiency.

Captained St Kilda’s 1966 premiership side as an undersized centre-half forward.

I saw him captain Tasmania.

 

 

Tassie footy has great names.

As a kid of 12 or so on one of my first visits to Hobart

We drove past the North Hobart ground,

And heard the crowd shout: ”Hudson!”.

He went on to average more than 5 goals a match for Hawthorn,

Came back to Tassie,

Kicked 18 goals in one game for Glenorchy,

Only got two votes in the William Leitch medal.

There was someone better than the bloke who kicked 18 goals.

How good was that somebody?

How good was Tasmanian footy?

 

 

I got to Hobart in the early `70s.

Barracked for Clarence who had an original guernsey,

Maroon with a white V.

They were coached by John ‘The Count’ Bingley

Who, in one of his eight games for St Kilda,

had the better of Collingwood captain Des Tuddenham in the 1966 Grand Final.

The Count was tanned, tough and up for it.

There was a story of him starting a brawl in his youth,

by ankle-tapping an opponent as they lined up for the national anthem:

North Hobart had John Devine.

He moved like a missile – straight, hard and fast,

God help anyone who got in his way.

The best Tassie team I saw was Sandy Bay in the Rod Olson and Paul Sproule years.

 

 

I played for the Tasmanian University Football Club.

On the first night the coach called us in.

I liked running bare feet and had hair down to my arse.

Seeing me on the edge of the huddle, he cried, “What the fuck have I got now?”

His name was Brian Eade known as Cocky.

His son is Rodney Eade known as Rocket.

Rocket played with Glenorchy before joining Hawthorn,

After which he coached Sydney, the Bulldogs and Gold Coast.

Rocket still tells the story of my first night at training,

Says his father never got over it.

People ask me what sort of footballer I was.

I say, “Timid but fascinated”.

I just loved being out there,

Seeing the wonderful, crazy things people do on the footy field.

I started writing footy to amuse my team-mates.

In the early `80s, I wrote footy for the Launceston Examiner.

The big rivalry of the time was North Launceston and Scottsdale.

Scottsdale had a few blokes who couldn’t play much at all,

A couple who could play a bit, three talented kids and four old champions.

One of the old champions, Danny Hall, could have stepped out of a Clint Eastwood western,

Tall, handsome, pitilessly hard.

Collingwood were interested, but Danny only wanted to play for Scottsdale.

 

 

I watched a lot of games at what was then York Park

At York Park in the 1920s, my father saw Brent Crosswell’s grandfather take a mark

that re-awoke in his memory 80 years later.

Crosswell had asked me to ask Dad if he could remember his grandfather.

It took a whole day and half a night

But then he emerged holding the image he had found in  the library of his mind.

“He went up like an angel,” Dad said, lifting his hand to indicate a vertical flight.

Crosswell’s face quivered with delight when I told him.

He otherwise professed to have lost all interest in the game.

 

 

Brent Crosswell is one of the great characters I have met in 40 years of sports writing.

“Give me a grey day at the Western Oval and I wasn’t worth a cracker,” he once declared.

“Give me 80,000 at the MCG and I was Hercules”.

He was from Campbell Town.

Like me, a product of old convict Tasmania

To quote something I wrote years ago:

“Brent Crosswell was an intellectual and an athlete

At a time in Australian culture when you weren’t be allowed to be both.

Crosswell stood alone, a double outsider, at the centre of Australian society”. “

Best on ground in two VFL/AFL grand finals,

He also happens to be one of the best writers

To have ever written on the game.

 

 

In 1985, I went to Melbourne and started writing footy over there.

I’ve had many experiences to be grateful for.

One was entering Aboriginal Australia through the doorway of Australian football.

Once, when I was with Kevin Sheedy, he asked me to track down Derek Peardon,

The 19-year-old Tasmanian Aboriginal kid who, in 1969,

broke into a Richmond team that would win four premierships in eight years.

Peardon was taken from his mother on Cape Barren Island when he was five

And put in a Launceston orphanage.

After he won the best and fairest at a national under 16 carnival,

It was the orphanage that decided which club he would go to

Out of Carlton, Geelong, St Kilda and Richmond.

What Kevin Sheedy observed about his young team-mate Derek Peardon was that he never spoke.

That and the fact he was Aboriginal.

Aboriginal, thought Sheedy, who had never met an Aboriginal person before,

what does that word mean?

And so began the great quest that changed Kevin Sheedy’s life and, with it, Australian football.

 

 

In 1993, I spent the year with the Western Bulldogs,

then called Footscray Football Club.

I went there to learn more about the game tactically.

What I learnt was something completely different.

The Dogs had nearly folded four years earlier.

Understanding the causes of the club’s near demise

changed how I saw the game.

I suddenly saw it was culturally vulnerable.

To put it another way: I stopped taking footy for granted.

People ask me who I barrack for? I say the game.

I fell in love with the game as an 11 -year-old in Burnie.

Schoolboy footy in Burnie back then was something to behold.

Six kids from my era went on to play VFL/AFL, including Collingwood legend Johnny Greening.

Footy was king in Burnie when I was a kid.

Now it can’t raise a team for the Statewide competition.

The last great grand final I saw on the north west coast was in 1983.

Smithton won its first NWFU premiership, beating Cooee.

I’ve seen boring AFL grand finals which left me with few if any memories.

I have a picture book in my head from the 1983 NWFU grand final,

but Cooee doesn’t exist any more and Smithton is back in a local competition.

Sandy Bay’s not a senior club any more,

and when AFL Tasmania changed the name of North Hobart Football Club,

things got personal.

My father was North Hobart’s oldest living player at the time.

North Hobart, established 1881, 27 premierships, 12 state premierships,

foundation club of not only Tasmanian football but Australian football

got its name changed to…..see, you can hardly remember….

 

 

Do I worry for Tasmanian football? Yes.

Do I worry for Australian football. Yes, also.

Grassroots footy is struggling everywhere I go.

Australian football is a world-class game played by a tiny fraction of the world’s population.

If the game dies at grass roots, it will die .

There is a strong push on to get a Tasmanian AFL licence.

I support it because it’s what is needed to revive the game at grassroots level.

My last best Tasmanian footy experience was at Bothwell,

Freezing grey snow cloud atop the central highlands,

Bothwell Rabbits playing the Campania Wallabies.

Reigning premier meets contender,

Both teams in original guernseys

Frequent scuffles, both sides making a point,

An engaged and vocal crowd,

Saveloys at the kiosk

44-gallon drums stoked with red coals hammering out warmth,

And come the third quarter, the snow cloud atop the highlands mysteriously parts

A naked ray of sunshine escapes,

making a rainbow in the eucalypts on the eastern side of the ground.

My heart beats red, yellow and green again.

Come on, Tassie! It’s now or never.

 

 

To read Martin Flanagan’s ‘defence of grass roots footy’, presented at the Norm Smith Oration, click HERE.

To read David Wilson’s open letter of thanks to Martin Flanagan, click HERE.

To read Matt Zurbo’s recent tale of the boys from Dodges Ferry, click HERE.

 

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Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    A living treasure is Martin Flanagan! Fine words, fine mind, fine person.

  2. Fabulous stuff.
    Go The Map!

  3. Perspective.

    Thank you, M Flanagan.

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