The Sixth Man – a world before the AFL

 

By MIKE BINGHAM

 

 

THE early 1960s, a time of changes yet to come in a city where pounds and shillings ruled, along with Prime Minister Robert Menzies, 6 o’clock closing, and a winter devoted to 12 very combative VFL football teams which played in mud more often than not. Every Saturday.

 

This was the world I entered as a young journalist, having somehow reached my journalistic dream, The Sun News-Pictorial, via the Burnie Advocate, the Bundaberg News-Mail, the Brisbane Courier Mail and the Sydney Morning Herald.

 

Dreams could become true. So it was  on one Thursday night  more than 50 years ago when I learned I was to go to cover a match at Geelong. My promotion was because the paper was short of footy reporters, and some sub-editors  had noticed that I seemed to know a bit about the game.

 

To be frank, I must confess that there was limited competition for the outing to Kardinia Park, given that the pubs could be shut by the time we arrived back. Six games on a Saturday afternoon  and the biggest newspaper in Melbourne was  one short of a would-be footy writer. A novice staffer who had barracked for the Cats since they won back to back premierships in 1951-52 (a feat never repeated, but my clock is still ticking).

 

With a shade of luck, career-enhancing moments could  occur when opportunity knocked.

 

I made it to the bar after a Geelong victory, and found the editor at the other end of the bar. A fellow Geelong barracker he was happy to chat about the win, and I carefully noted his best players.  I had no hesitation in using some (i.e. most of them) in Monday’s paper.

 

Sadly, some of my colleagues were less than complimentary when the editor publicly congratulated me on my report. A year or so later, I was offered the chance to be Lou Richaeds’ latest ghost. What a way to spend half a day working with the Kiss of Death. Legendary footballer, raconteur, publican, media man-plus.  He called games on radio, mastered TV in a blink, and loved every minute of it.

 

I was perhaps his 18th or 19th ghost and it was often hard to come up with stunts, given that Lou  had delivered plenty over the years and he loved it when they bounced back on him. Good examples were cleaning a city  street with a feather  duster, and cutting Footscray’s champion Ted Whitten’s lawn with a pair of scissors.

 

Our best shot together was when we faced a horror Saturday – there were no VFL games, only an interstate match between the Big White V, and South Australia. There was no way we could fill an entire tabloid page with that one-sided clash. Then from nowhere, I had an idea. Lou was suitably stunned.

 

I reached for a copy of the midweek  Sporting Globe which carried results and rosters from suburban and country footy competitions. “We’ll make it a great priced double with the Mighty Vics….a good one for the punters.”

 

A quick scan of the Globe provided real gold – two bush teams with hyphenated names were due to clash at the weekend. Hyphens! Posh names, we’re on Lou!

 

And so it was that Grong Grong-Matong was selected to down Ariah Park-Mirool. And GG-Matong yet to win a game that season, inspired no doubt by their Place in the Sun, stormed to victory.

 

On the Sunday afternoon, Lou received a telegram from the blokes at Grong Grong-Matong  – “Stick with us Lou and you will wear diamonds.” Those people in the bush had real class.

 

No reference to the Sporting Globe is complete with reference to its fine editor, Geoff Hawkesley. The story goes that the Saturday night edition relied on Collingwood to win,  otherwise sales slumped in the Magpie heartland.

 

Geoff gathered various sports people to go to Pentridge Jail with him on occasional Sundays  and entertain the prisoners.  After one successful Sunday afternoon a senior jail officer thanked Geoff but requested that he never again invite  the world famous athletics coach Percy Cerutty to the jail. The reason? “He’s down in the yard teaching the prisoners how to pole vault.”

 

Those were the days but one of  Lou’s lines has stayed with me. This from a Collingwood icon – captain of a winning premiership team and a veteran of 250 games. Who else could react to a Magpie defeat with the comment: “How would you like to be the comedian at the Collingwood  Social Club tonight?”

 

We ghosts were lucky people.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Great stories. Is this an application for a speaking spot at an Almanac lunch?

  2. Grong-Grong Matong, V Ariah Park. Good footy up there.

    Last time we were in Grong Grong we popped into the pub where mine host Tad Obudzinski, (former Wagga Tigers full forward who played 2 games for South Melbourne in 1973) made us very welcome. I’m trying to think of other VFL/AFL footballers from there. I have family members in the cemetery but none were footballers.

    Over to Ariah-Park, the home of the Quade clan. Ricky, former South Melbourne player, then Sydney coach, one of three siblings who played VFL. Older brothers, Mick & Tom both played for North Melbourne.

    Mike i first barracked for Geelong in the late 1960’s. The world had changed a tad from the early 60’s though in the VFL it remained 12 Victorian clubs playing 6 games on the Saturday except for the split rounds/long weekends.

    Good read.

    Glen!

  3. Back in those days most of the players in the team were from the area eg Collingwood had mainly lads from the area in their side. Now-a- days its ridiculous to call Collingwood Collingwood as the side consists of players from all over Australia. They should called the Magpies. Likewise for all other clubs. Giving them a district name is now meaningless. Also some clubs have players from outside of Australia in their sides.

    I also believe we should have a team from Canberra, Tasmania and Northern Territory in the comp with less teams from Victoria, around 4 0r 5..

  4. george smith says

    Fisho please!. Is the achievement of Canada finally sticking it up the Americans, when the Toronto Bluejays won the World Series, diminished because its team was full of Americans?

    No one had heard of West Ham, an obscure East London soccer club down on its luck, until a nasty, vicious, bigoted caricature of a man arose on English television. But as much as Alf Garnett hated everyone, he loved West Ham, making them the second most famous team in England.

    Collingwood are famous, in a way that Port, Brunswick, Western Suburbs, Glenorchy and other Magpie teams are not. Everyone has a Collingwood story from around the world, from being baled up in London for a photo op, to being sarcastically refused entry into South Australia because they didn’t like Collingwood supporters. Hawthorn may be more successful in recent times, but every Collingwood success or failure is the stuff of legend…

  5. Sorry George, but I’m quite passionate about this. If we are to call a team by its district, then specific areas should be designated to that club. Then after a certain amount are selected anyone left out of that district would be fair game for other clubs. For example, over here in Adelaide, areas from Port Adelaide, West Adelaide, South Adelaide and Glenelg would be Power territory and so on.

    Over in the Major American Baseball, Toronto Blue Jays should be known as the Blue Jays in my opinion

    I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

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