‘The Object Of My Desire………’ by KB Hill

 

I happened upon the object of my desire many, many years ago.

 

She was destitute, unloved, forever being compared unfavourably to her sassy neighbour across the road who attracted and courted numerous suitors.

 

Noses were turned up whenever her name was mentioned. Jokes were made about her lack of sophistication. She’ll amount to nothing, they scoffed.

 

But I could see something in her. She possessed a rare charm which turned me on. I grew to love her more and more. It’s an affair that has never abated.

 

Through no fault of hers, my emotions still occasionally overflow in her presence. I find myself scaling the heights one minute, then plummeting to the lowest of lows the next.

 

Permit me, if you will, to recount a few of the cherished milestones of this dear old friend of mine ………….

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

WELCOMING A NEW GUEST

 

I’m no more than four or five, and nipping at Dad’s heels, when I’m first introduced to the new home of the Wangaratta Rovers.

 

They’ve received permission to use a ten-acre patch in Evans Street that had been handed to the Council way back in 1859. The specification of the Lands Department at the time was that it be used for sporting purposes.

 

It was unnamed but colloquially dubbed ‘The Cricket Ground’, and used sparingly over the next 91 years for cricket and the occasional game of footy. Precious little had been done to improve it. The ‘paddock’ was rough-hewn, full of tussocks and mostly unkempt. A ramshackle building, which comprised a roof and two and a half sides, was occupied by a local swaggie, Tommie Clack.

 

Tommie used the floorboards of one part of the ‘pavilion’ as firewood, to provide some element of comfort in the harsh winter months.

 

He continued to squat, even when the Rovers began training there in the early fifties. The process was that they’d undress in the Industrial Pavilion under the old Showgrounds Grandstand, climb through an opening in the tin fence, and begin ball-work shortly after.

 

They continued to play Home games at the Showgrounds whilst spending thousands of hours – with Council assistance – grading the oval, rolling and sowing grass, and re-developing the surrounds of their new home.

 

“We had to grub out large trees; the oval had to be re-fenced. I recall we had to cart gravel from Eldorado for the banking; we had as many as 50 at working bees,” Rovers stalwart Frank Hayes once said.

 

“And every evening and week-end for months, carpenters, plasterers, bricklayers and labourers worked like beavers to convert the dilapidated building into presentable Clubrooms.”

 

In 1952, in time for their third Ovens and Murray season, the Hawks are finally settled into their new headquarters…………….

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

STAGING THE ‘BIG SHOW’

 

Just four years after its christening as an Ovens and Murray venue, ‘The Cricket Ground’ is chosen to host the eagerly-anticipated Grand Final encounter between North Albury and Wangaratta.

 

More than 11,000 fans pack in and are treated to a classic contest which fluctuates throughout. It’s really a ‘coming-of-age’ for 18 year-old Magpie champion Lance Oswald (later to become a VFL star). In a best-afield display, he boots five of his seven goals in the third quarter, to bring Wang back into contention.

 

But the ‘Hoppers steady, and hold a slender four-point three-quarter time lead. ‘Mother Nature’ seems to turn against Wang in the final term, as ideal conditions give way to a gale-force storm which blows towards North’s goal. The turning-point comes late in the game, when North’s Arthur Pickett sends one through the big sticks from the centre of the ground. They hang on desperately to win by 10 points – 13.15 to 13.5…….

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

 

A CENTRE-STRIP

 

A centre-square of black turf is laid, lovingly-nurtured, and comes into use for the first time in January 1955. It survives flood, drought, plagues, vandals, under- and over-indulgent curators and some footy coaches who regard its presence as a necessary evil.

 

The Rovers Cricket Club springs up and soon becomes a vital component of the Oval.

 

With shared tenants, Combined Schools and United, which morph into the merged Rovers-United, then Rovers-United Bruck, they snare a total of 23 WDCA senior flags……..

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

MR. FOOTBALL ARRIVES IN TOWN

 

Everyone with the remotest connection to football in the vicinity is abuzz with anticipation in late-1955 as news spreads that Mr. Football has arrived in town.

 

Bobby Rose, unanimously touted as the best footballer in Australia, has been lured to be captain-coach of the Rovers.

 

The battling Hawks are astounded at the extent to which he transforms their fortunes. A crowd of over 1,000 flock to watch him in action in the club’s first practice match. Membership shoots up by more than 300%. The outlay of 35 pounds a week for a man who was a ‘marketer’s dream’ is deemed a fabulous investment.

 

Suddenly, the Rovers are front-page news and recruits, eager to savour the champ’s wisdom, sign on. History will record him as the club’s most esteemed figure………

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

‘LET  CELEBRATIONS BEGIN……’

 

The biggest party in the Ground’s history begins soon after the siren blares to signify the Hawks’ 51-point win over Wodonga in the 1958 Grand Final – their first O & M flag.

 

The game is a triumph for the dynamic Rose but there are numerous heroes. The players return to Wangaratta by train and are led down to the Ground by the Town Band.

 

At the open-air Dance and Barbecue, a crowd of more than 3,000 is there to greet them. They devour 3,000 steakettes, 1,000 steaks, and the caterers carve up two large bullocks. The crowd is still at it in the wee hours of the morning…..

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

A YOUNGSTER IN THE WINGS

 

As a keen cricketer, Bob Rose is an integral part of three premierships with Rovers. His greatest fan is a tiny 7-8 year-old, who diligently uses his own scorebook to record each game.

 

And at each break in play, he grabs a bat and pleads with somebody to throw a few down to him. Years later, the kid seems destined to wear the baggy green, as he progresses to become a prolific Sheffield Shield opening batsman. However, a tragic car accident puts paid to Robert Rose’s highly-promising career……

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

THE CHALLENGE MATCH

 

The Rovers’ victory over Wodonga in the 1960 Grand Final prompts a challenge from Oakleigh, who have taken out the VFA flag.

 

The match, played on the newly-named City Oval the following Sunday, attracts huge interest from the football public. Several city book-makers – keen Oakleigh backers – sense an opportunity to clean up and find multiple ‘takers’ when the word is put around.

 

But it’s a one-horse race. The Hawks lead from the first bell, running away to win 14.17 to 3.10…..

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

COMFORT FOR THE FANS

 

With support from the Rovers in 1960, the Council submits plans for a Shelter, which is to be built in two stages and will cover the whole embankment to the right of the Clubrooms. It provides a vast improvement in supporter comfort and becomes possibly the most identifiable feature of the City Oval.

 

Many of the Ground’s most rabid fans make the new Shelter their home and it is later named ‘The Neville Hogan Stand’ after a Club icon.

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

THE BOYD – TUCK CLASH

 

It’s early 1964, when an incident occurs which is still imprinted in the minds of those who were there – although, to this day, you’ll get different versions.

 

Rovers coach Ken Boyd, one of the most controversial figures in the game, and Corowa leader Frank Tuck, the ex-Collingwood skipper, clash on the scoreboard side of the ground. To most it seems like a legitimate shirt-front which costs Tuck a broken jaw but it triggers hitherto unseen demonstrations at half-time.

 

Spiders supporters hurl abuse at ‘Big Ken’ as he walks from the ground and several, with fists raised, try to push their way through the packed crowd.

 

The Melbourne Herald reports on the incident in their edition the following Tuesday with the headline: ‘KEN BOYD IS NAMED’. Boyd subsequently sues for libel and the aftermath is played out in the Supreme Court two years later.

 

Against all considered opinion, Boyd wins the case and is granted substantial damages. He retires later that year with two flags to his name and a reputation as a charismatic and inspiring coach…..

 

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

THE SECOND STOREY

 

The Rovers undertake a substantial renovation to the clubrooms, beginning in late 1964, and complete the task in ’65. A second storey is added to the humble abode that had been constructed twelve years earlier.

 

The players are to the forefront of this as coach Ken Boyd marshalls them to lend support to the voluntary ‘tradies’ who had been at it every weekend for months.

 

It’s called the ‘Maroney Pavilion’ as a tribute to one of the club’s stalwarts who has been at the forefront of the project ………..

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

 

 

THE LOCAL DERBY

 

72 epic editions of the ‘Local Derby’ have been staged at the City Oval to date, but none have carried the consequences of the 1976 Grand Final.

 

The Rovers are in the midst of their fabulous ‘Super Seventies’ era when they meet a confident Wangaratta side which has hit peak form.

 

The Hawks are considered likely to hold an advantage, playing on their own dung-hill, but it’s not to be. The Pies produce power football from the first bounce and lead by 25 points at half-time.

 

The capacity crowd settles down to watch a predictable fight-back from the champs but it fails to eventuate. They’re dismantled to the tune of 36 points……….

 

 

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

CLUBROOMS EXPANDED

 

A further re-modelling of the ‘Maroney Pavilion’ is undertaken between 1981-82, which increases the floor space of the complex by almost 40 per cent, and crowd capacity from 200 to 350.

 

Thirty-odd years later, a further step in the Clubrooms project is completed when a balcony, covering the perimeter of the upstairs building, is constructed offering arguably the O & M’s best viewing facilities.

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

THE LIGHTS GO ON

 

The first match for premiership points under new lighting is played at the City Oval in 1993. Whilst the Rovers’ performance in their 80-point win over Yarrawonga is bright, the same can’t be said for the lights.

 

Supporters from both clubs fume that they’re unable to identify players on the far side of the ground,

 

But the dim lights don’t deter Hawk spearhead Matthew Allen who slots nine majors in a scintillating display…..

 

 

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

 

 

A FINAL NAME CHANGE

 

The City Council, in consultation with the Rovers, re-names City Oval the ‘W.J.Findlay Oval’, in appreciation of the contributions of a former Postal Clerk, long-term Councillor, Mayor, Parliamentary candidate, author, Rovers committee-man, Life Member and ardent Hawk supporter.

 

‘Old Bill’, who has passed on a couple of years earlier, had first-hand experience of the evolution of a decrepit patch of dirt into a sporting mecca …………..

 

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 

 

BACK TO THE PRESENT

 

Darkness falls early on this bitter, early-August Tuesday evening……A curtain of misty rain glistens as it sweeps across the floodlit Oval……Brown and Gold-clad figures flip the pill around with precision, egged on by a demanding figure with a stentorian voice.

 

I’m propped under the giant gum-tree which has probably hovered here longer than the 160-year existence of this sporting Oval.

 

If only it could tell the tale it may be of: “….. People who come and find seats where they sat when they were children, and cheered their heroes….. And watch the games as if they’d dipped themselves in magic waters……..The memories are so thick they have to brush them away from their faces……..This field, it’s part of our past……..”

 

 

 

This article appeared first on KB Hill’s website where you can see this and all of his great stories about local sporting identities. To go to his site, click here.

 

 

 

Our writers are independent contributors. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own. They are not the views, nor do they reflect the views, of Malarkey Publications.

 

Do you really enjoy the Almanac concept?
And want to ensure it continues in its current form, and better? To help keep things ticking over please consider making your own contribution.

Become an Almanac (annual) member – CLICK HERE
One off financial contribution – CLICK HERE
Regular financial contribution (monthly EFT) – CLICK HERE

 

Comments

  1. KB Hill is really something! He turns a piece of dirt into garden of memories by tracing the love and care that went into the nurturing of this sports ground, recording the evolution of the teams to which it has been ‘home’, and recounting key moments of sporting clashes there over the decades. I love the bit about being ‘propped under the giant gumtree…’ Bravo, KB!

  2. Wonderful piece, KB!
    Some great yarns. Thanks.

    PS I am intrigued that the club is known as both the “Rovers” and the “Hawks”?

Leave a Comment

*