‘One of Chiltern’s Finest……’ by KB Hill

I’ve arranged to catch up with Billy Peake today but, beforehand, I duck in to renew acquaintances with one of his old stamping-grounds – the Chiltern Oval……..

 

Nothing much has altered in forty-five years……….Those expansive, wide wings and deep pockets used to give the impression you were playing in the middle of a three-acre paddock.

 

The prospect of lining up here intimidated visiting clubs……You were invariably on the other end of a hiding, and the passionate Swans supporters would sure let you know about it………

 

***

 

Bill laughs when I comment on the size of the ground: “They’ve actually bought it in a bit from when I was a kid, you know…… My first coach, Greg Tate would tell us: ‘Keep the ball moving, …..If you’ve got no-one to kick it to, kick it out in the open spaces…..Run ‘em off their legs ……’ “

 

Billy’s a legend around these parts – quietly-spoken,  terrific footballer in his day; terrific bloke…..

 

He and Faye live in High Street, which has itself played an intrinsic role in the history of this famous old footy town.

 

When Chiltern won the O & K flag in 1968, the side comprised no less than eight High Street residents.

 

“Kevin, Jock and ‘Rowdy’  Lappin lived over the road from us…..Billy and ‘Meggsy’ Cassidy were next door….Gary Howes lived down the road a bit….Dessy Lappin was up that way, too…..” Bill says.

 

“The Lappins had a paddock behind their house….When we were kids we used to kick the footy ‘til all hours…….. Faye’s dad ‘Cob’ (Lappin) would be there and the rest of them, even the little tackers , like his youngest son, Rick, joined in……”

 

“The ambition of every youngster in town was just to play for Chiltern…..That’s why most of ‘em never left. They went to school together, and played together……….”

 

***

 

The Swans’ reputation as a footy leviathan grew in the late 40s-early 50s, when they strung together seven Chiltern & District League premierships in nine years.

 

“My older brothers played in a few of those sides,” Bill says. “Mum and Dad (Tom) loved the game, especially Mum, who was a fanatic……That’s all they lived for…..I was the team mascot, and grew up with a footy in my hands; no other choice, really…….”

 

When the CDFL disbanded at the end of 1953, Chiltern gained admittance to the Ovens and King League. But Bill reckons the best thing that ever happened to the Club was the recruitment of Greg Tate as captain-coach.

 

‘Spudda’ Tate had been a star during Essendon’s Dick Reynolds-John Coleman era, then coached Rutherglen to their last O & M flag, in 1954.

 

“He’d been working at the Springhurst Butter Factory, but Dad, who was on the Shire Council, urged him to train up to be the Shire Secretary. He moved his family to Chiltern and lived in the Shire house.”

 

“He was a great leader…….Everybody loved him. I was just so fortunate to be coming through when he arrived.”

 

“Of all the coaches I’ve heard, he was the best orator ……Even when he went crook at you, he’d put it in such a way that you didn’t realise he was giving you a burst……….”

 

“In my opinion, he laid the foundation for the Club’s future success………..”

 

***

 

Bill was 17 when he played in Chiltern’s 1957 flag.  King Valley, under the leadership of lanky ruckman Bill Pinder, had beaten the Swans three times during the season, and started hot-favourites in the Grand Final.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite a howling gale blowing towards one end, Tate won the toss and kicked against the breeze.

 

“We held them to a goal in the first quarter, then Tate kicked 5 of our eight in the second quarter. That broke their back a bit, and we went on to win by 44 points,” Bill recalls.

 

He shared in the premiership triumph with three of his brothers – ‘Jonna’, Frank and Alan (who starred in a back pocket) – and a cousin, Bobby.

 

 


More than 1000 games with Chiltern. The Peake brothers: Jonna (300), Alan (270), Bill (230) and Frank (200+)

 

 

But he was rapt to also play alongside one of his heroes, Ron Howes.

 

“He was the best footballer I’d seen play around here…..Never wanted to leave Chiltern, though…… “

 

“Ron only stood 5’8 – 5’9”, could kick either foot and play anywhere. He kicked 100 goals the previous season, lined up at full forward in that Grand Final – then promptly retired.”

 

The Peake quintet were also members of the 1958 Grand Final side, which engaged in a titanic struggle with Greta, in miserable conditions.

 

Bill started on the half back line that day, but swapped flanks in an endeavour to shut down dangerous half forward Ian Younger, who’d booted  three early goals. Chiltern had registered the first point of the game, lost the lead and trailed from then on. They finally drew level at the 25-minute mark of the last quarter……..With the clock ticking down a free kick was paid in the dying moments.

 

To howls of indignation from Greta fans, the umpire penalised one of their defenders for hanging onto Chiltern forward Tony Borrack.

 

Borrack converted from the goal-square to establish a six-point lead…..The siren blew seconds later, to give the Swans their second successive flag…………

 

***

 

“Handy start to your career, Bill….Dual premiership player, and a Best & Fairest at 18,” I suggest.

 

“Yeah…..pretty lucky, I suppose. The only setback came in 1960, when I had a pinched cartilage….Missed about 6 games…..Then I heard about a fellah called Taylor, up at Beechworth, who was a bit of a miracle-worker…… He fixed me straight away.”

 

That was the only year he ever missed playing finals.

 

The following season he played a couple of practice games for the Rovers, before Chiltern icon Norm Minns enticed him to have a run with Wangaratta. Again, his run of good fortune continued….

 

He managed to hold his place in a strong Pies line-up which was on the march to a convincing September series.

 

A side numbering multiple stars such as Constable, Mack, Killeen, Waller, Steele, Woods and Mulrooney thrashed Corowa by 40 points, and Wodonga by 52 in the lead-up finals.

 

The inclusion of Ron McDonald, a talented centre half-forward from Richmond, had put the icing on the cake for Wang. The Grand Final was a slaughter, as they ran over Benalla by 63 points. McDonald booted 16 goals in the three finals games.

 

Bill had played predominantly in the forward line during the season, but was switched to the back flank five minutes into the decider, when Rodney Swan went down with an damaged ankle.

 

It was the makings of him. He gathered 23 possessions and was named among the best players. “Until then I’d been battling up forward, but thereafter I spent most of my time as a Back Flanker,” he says.

 

Occasionally, though, when the Pies needed a ‘stopper’ he’d be handed a job on the gun mid-fielders of the day, such as Hogan, Deane, Gayfer or Hanlon…….

 

***

 

Greg Tate had worded up his old club, Essendon, about the likely-looking young bloke from Chiltern.

 

“John Coleman was coaching. He and ‘Tatey ’ were good mates, so I was invited down for a run. But I hated the city,” Bill says.

 

“I trained for a few nights, and played in a practice game, but couldn’t get home quick enough! “

 

Wangaratta remained there, or thereabouts, in Bill’s seven years in the No.5 Black and White guernsey. They reached a further three Grand Finals, bowing out to the Rovers in 1964 and ‘65, and Albury in ‘66.

 

 


Wangaratta 100-gamers: Herbie Dowling and Bill Peake.

 

 

The last of his 120-odd games was another riveting Final – the 1967 First Semi against the Hawks. It was a battle of the defences at Rutherglen, but the Pies were in the horrors in front of the big sticks.

 

Forward Ron Critchley couldn’t buy a goal (finishing with 0.8) as their rivals sneaked home by three points.

 

Chiltern was calling. His old Magpie team-mate Lennie Richards was in his second year as coach and they’d recruited well.

 

He took out his second  Club B & F (10 years after the first) and finished runner-up to Whorouly’s Billy McAuliffe in the O & K’s Baker Medal.

 

And, in a carbon-copy of the Grand Final a decade earlier, Chiltern snatched the flag from under the nose of their old rivals, Greta.

 

“They’d beaten us three times during the season, but we sniffed a chance in the Second Semi,” Bill recalls.

 

“We were on the smallish side….Our ruckmen, Paddy Tognello and Bob Lappin, were both only around 5’11”, but we seemed to have all the answers for Greta that day, even though we only got up by four points. It was a bit of a triumph for Len Richards, who was very popular.”

 

Three years later, the Swans held on to pip Milawa by 6 points.

 

“Milawa had a crop of good kids at that time. Barry Cook, Merv Holmes, Ross Gardner and Gary Allen went on to do big things with the Rovers. But ours was a young side, with the Lappin boys, John and Charlie Narres and Johnny O’Neill.”

 

“ ‘Skimmy’ O’Brien had come from the Rovers as coach. I liked ‘Skimmy’ and it was a pity he gave it away after just the one year.”

 

Bill’s fifth flag with Chiltern came the following year when they overpowered Beechworth in the the dying minutes of a thriller. The Bombers were leading by 12 points when the Swans hit back.

 

“We had a 16 year-old, Don Mattson up forward, who took three big grabs in the goal-square and helped turn the game.”

 

“He had plenty of talent, Donny, and went on to play with Richmond and Essendon. But he probably didn’t like putting in the necessary hard work to make the grade.”

 

Bill played the last of his 230-odd games with Chiltern in the 1973 Grand Final. It was a memorable, bruising affair against a tough North Wangaratta side, which was chasing its first O & K flag. The Northerners finished strongly to deny him the perfect farewell.

 

He thought he’d hung up his boots…….until his brother-in-law Jock Lappin took on the coaching job at Brocklesby a couple of years later, and sought his help to drag the Hume League cellar-dwellers up the ladder.

 

 

 

 

In somewhat of a fairytale , they reached the Grand Final but had to tackle Walla Walla without Bill, who’d suffered a broken thumb in the Prelim.

 

“That was definitely curtains…….I’d had enough by then,” he says.

 

He concentrated on watching the Swans, and in particular, his son Craig, who played 300 games and shared in three flags with Chiltern.

 

He spent a year as President of Chiltern and now follows the netball fortunes of his grand-daughters Lucy and Molly who play with Chiltern U15s and Barnawartha U13s respectively………

 

***

 

Bill’s confronted a few health obstacles in recent times.

 

He’s been living with leukaemia since 2013, then was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus two years ago.

 

“It came as a shock. They could’ve operated, but advised it wasn’t worth the risk at my age (now 81). It doesn’t worry me, though……….Faye and the girls (Ange and Natalie) probably stress about it more than me.”

 

“When it gets real bad I might have to be drip-fed……But that’s okay, they’ve given me fair warning.”

“It is what it is……..”

 

Post-Script: The Peake brothers accumulated a total of 28 Premierships: ‘Jonna’ (9), Alan (7), Frank (6) and Bill (6).

 

 

 

 

The Tigers (Covid) Almanac 2020 will be published in 2021. It will have all the usual features – a game by game account of the Tigers season – and will also include some of the best Almanac writing from the Covid winter.  Pre-order HERE

 

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