The All-Rounder, the Import, and the Coach who stayed – KB Hill

The Wangaratta Football Club has existed, in some shape or form, for more than 128 years.

 

Its history reveals stunning highs, cataclysmic lows, and the usual dramas and controversies that beset all sporting organisations.

 

A handful of the game’s greats have worn the Black and White……There have been characters, rascals and undesirables – and people of great devotion and unswerving loyalty.

 

In short, there has been a smorgasbord of personalities.

 

Here’s a thumbnail sketch of three such ‘characters’, who turned out for the Pies in the early days of the 20th century……..

 

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THE ALL-ROUNDER

 

Charles Bernard Meadway was 20 when he made his way into Wangaratta’s O & M side during the 1899 season. For most of the next 16 years he would prove to be one of the team’s stars – when he was available.

 

He was born in Dunedin (N.Z) and his family moved to Australia six years later. The Meadways resided in Bendigo, before eventually settling in Wangaratta.

 

His sporting career ran parallel, in some respects, to that of the legendary Bill Hickey, who is regarded as possibly the town’s finest all-round sportsman.

But Bernie wasn’t far behind. A brilliant cricketer, he was the WDCA’s leading wicket-taker on four occasions, and hit four WDCA centuries. His ‘hands’ of 130, 150* and 143 indicated that he was partial to a decent stint at the crease.

 

But his stand-out knock came in 1907/08 when he hammered 210* for Wangaratta against Oxley. It remains the fourth-highest individual WDCA score. For good measure, in the same match, he took 11 wickets.

 

Later that season, he was selected in a Victorian Country Cricket team, which played a match against the Melbourne Cricket Club at the M.C.G.

 

Years earlier, on the eve of the 1902 footy season, Bernie appeared set for a lengthy absence from the sporting arena when he enlisted to fight in the Boer War. Fortunately, a month later, peace prevailed and he returned to the playing ranks.

 

During the early 1900’s Wangaratta alternated between the O & M.F.A and the Ovens and King District Association. After playing his part in an O & K flag in 1905, it was announced that Meadway had made his last appearance, as he would soon be playing with Carlton.

 

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But, after just one game with the Blues, he was back with Wangaratta, and helped them to another flag.

 

Collingwood lured Bernie down for a run the following season. Reports filtered back that he had been constantly mentioned for his brilliant play in his VFL games. But inevitably, the boy from the bush returned home after three games.

 

It was the sport of Trap-Shooting that captured his attention and prompted lengthy absences from the Wangaratta side.

 

His effort of ‘grassing 23 sparrows in a row, and 108 birds without a miss, gave Meadway a world-record in 1907.

 

‘He used ballistic powder and a beautiful Clarborough and Johnstone gun,’ stated the Chronicle. But in a sombre message, which would have caused some heart-ache to Wangaratta fans, they reported that he intended to retire from football to concentrate on Sparrow-Shooting.

 

This, however, proved a fallacy. Bernie continued to combine his shooting excellence with regular cricket and football appearances.

 

After one exciting victory in 1912, a supporter rushed into verse to laud the performance of the Wangaratta side:

“Come let us join together, boys, and sing to all a song.

Of how we play at football and roll the ball along,

Of how we beat Moyhu, who thought they were too strong –

When we’re playing to be Premiers.

“Gil Ebbott is our rover, boys, for ever on the ball.

He can travel with the best of them- the daddy of them all.

When Meddy runs at a man, then someone’s sure to fall.

When we’re playing to be Premiers………….”

 

Bernie Meadway was 36 years old, and still single, when he played his last game for Wangaratta, during the 1915 season. He enlisted with the AIF and joined the Remount Unit in the deserts of the Middle East.

 

He returned from the Great War in 1919, to become a successful businessman and continue his shooting career. He won the first of his six Australian Championships in 1920, and competed on three occasions against the world’s best at Monte Carlo……….

 

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THE ‘FLY-BY-NIGHTER’

 

Bernie Meadway, in his handful of games in 1915, would have no doubt made the acquaintance of Albert Hezikiah (Vernon) Bradbury, who was one of the most ‘colourful’ identities ever to be lured to the Wangaratta Football Club.

 

Bradbury was a flamboyant midfielder/forward, who made three appearances with St.Kilda before being lured to Footscray in 1910, aged 20.

 

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The Footscray Advertiser reported in 1914 that: ‘The football Oval was the stage from which Banbury kept crowds entranced with his wizardry.’ ‘He marked, feinted and twisted with a nonchalance that often left his opponents flat-footed and humiliated. There are few footballing dodges of which he is not the master……’

 

The champion, whose favoured position was centre half forward, once hit the post seven times in a match against Port Melbourne in 1912 – a record which still stands.

 

He was a star in Footscray’s 1913 premiership victory, but was one of 5 players sacked by the Club when they played abysmally in the 1914 Grand Final. It had been alleged that more money changed hands in that game than any other in the VFA’s history.

 

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Footscray’s 1913 VFA Premiership team. Vernon Banbury is far               right, middle row.

 

So, when Wangaratta were looking to bolster their ranks upon being re-admitted to the O & M, they sought the services of the mercurial star, who had become available – and reportedly amenable to the lure of a ‘quid’.

 

The spectre of War hung over the O & M in 1915. There was some conjecture as to whether matches should continue whilst fighting raged overseas, but nevertheless,  the season rolled on.

 

The Magpies chalked up a handful of wins – and a draw against the all-powerful Rutherglen. But their most exciting victory came in a heart-stopper against contenders Albury.

 

With minutes remaining, Edwards kicked a goal to bring Wang within a point. The sides drew level, then Banbury, displaying his great skills, evaded several opponents to snap the winning behind.

 

He had been a more than handy player with Wangaratta, but, upon the abandonment of the O & M at season’s end, because of the War, he returned to the city.

 

Vernon found his way back to Footscray, and featured in their successive VFA flags of 1919 and ‘20. He resigned briefly during the latter season when supporters accused him of playing ‘dead’.By now his life was in disarray, and his reputation as a playboy had cast him as a controversial figure. Overlooked for the 1922 Grand Final, which Footscray lost to Port Melbourne, he was subsequently disqualified for life by the VFA, for the attempted bribery of Port players.

 

The erratic career of Vernon Banbury took another turn when, in a defiant gesture towards the VFA, the Footscray Football Club bestowed Life Membership upon him at their next Annual Meeting.

 

Eighty-two years later, in 2010, he was admitted to the Western Bulldogs’ Hall of Fame………

 

 

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THE COACH WHO STAYED……

 

Matt O’Donohue was Banbury’s team-mate, and another of the Footscray players who had become embroiled in the bribery scandal that emanated from their 1922 Grand Final loss.

 

It was alleged that the lightly-built rover and Bulldog vice-captain had offered an on-field bribe to a Port Melbourne opponent, George Ogilvie. It came as a shock to Footscray fans, who had come to love and respect the local lad. Thankfully, the charge was not sustained.

 

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But O’Donohue had already decided to move on. He accepted a coaching appointment with Wangaratta, and was introduced to a welcoming crowd at the club’s March 1923 Annual Meeting.

 

He proved an inspiring leader, and introduced a slick, systematic, running game, with an emphasis on handball, which troubled all sides.

 

His own form was quite outstanding, although he was to come in for his share of rough treatment during the season.

 

Unfortunately, for O’Donohue’s coaching aspirations, he ran slap-bang into the fabled St.Patrick’s line-up.  ‘The Green Machine’, in the midst of a Golden Era, proved too strong for Wang in the 1923 Grand Final and triumphed by 17 points.

 

After the Pies  finished runners-up again the following season, he handed over the coaching reins to Percy ‘Oily’ Rowe in 1925, but continued to be one of the ‘big guns’ in a team which boasted stars on every line.

 

He and big ‘Oily’ proved a lethal ruck/rover combination and played a major part in Wangaratta snaring their first O & M flag. Fighting back from a sizeable quarter-time deficit, they out-pointed Hume Weir by 21 points.

 

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O’Donohue’s class at the fall of the ball was recognised the following season, when he was selected to rove to Rowe in the O & M’s representative clash against the VFL at the Albury Sportsground.

 

His swansong game with the ‘Pies came in their resounding 14-goal defeat at the hands of St.Pat’s. It was his fourth successive O & M Grand Final, and  a sad farewell for the veteran.

 

He sated his sporting urges by playing cricket and golf, but continued to follow the fortunes of the footy club with a keen interest.

 

Arthur Callender, the respected administrator who had engineered Matt’s move to Wangaratta, had become a close confidant, and coaxed him into becoming his off-sider in some of the sporting organisations with which he was involved.

 

At one stage Matt was concurrently Secretary of the Athletic, Turf and Speed-Coursing Clubs, whilst Callender held the role of President.

 

When the outbreak of World War II forced the disbandment of the Carnival in 1940, it terminated O’Donohue’s reign as Secretary. He had held the position for 17 years, and had become renowned for his contribution to sport in Wangaratta……….

 

 

*With assistance from ‘UNLEASHED’, the Western Bulldogs’ History”

 

 

You can read more off KB Hill’s great stories about local sporting identities by clicking HERE.

Comments

  1. I think most sporting clubs will be able to identify with this cross-section of characters and their varied levels of contribution to the club. Just shows that nothing much has changed in this regard over the passing of time.

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