“The steam train in the Geelong guernsey….” by  KB Hill

Ray Card knows exactly how Andrew Gaff felt when the fury of the football world came crashing down upon him recently.

 

Forty years ago – in Round 7 1978 -the well-chiselled Geelong defender, with just 15 games under his belt, pole-axed dual Brownlow Medallist Keith Greig (Click here to watch).

 

“That one would have got the journos going in Monday’s ‘rag’,” I suggest to Cardy.

 

“Back and front pages,” he replies. “I wasn’t too popular with North Melbourne for a while, but it was just part of the rough-and-tumble of footy in those days. Similar incidents occurred every week………”

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Respected scribe Glenn McFarlane summed up the clash: ‘It’s remembered as much for the blood that streamed from Greig’s nose, as it was for the impact of the collision. Greig had gone back with the flight of the ball when he ran into a steam-train in a Geelong jumper.’

 

‘Card said there was very little he could do to lessen the impact: “I was going hard at the ball and we collided. Keith didn’t come out of it very well. But the cameras caught it.” Greig said years later: “I was following the ball with my eyes when contact was made. I accepted it then, and I do now, because I played every week expecting contact. Now the game is getting like basketball….”

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That’s just one titbit of the Ray Card story. He played his footy hard. But once the final siren blew, was ever-ready to sit down with teammates and opponents alike, and blow the froth off a beer…..or twenty.

 

It made him a legion of lifelong friends, and is one reason why he’s still involved on the fringes of the game. People blessed with his gregarious personality are invaluable commodities in sporting clubs………

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Cardy grew up in Morwell, but was born in Yallourn, literally with a Sherrin at his fingertips.

 

His dad George, who had played 46 games with Geelong in the late forties, was a big influence, but didn’t interfere, as Ray was coming through the junior ranks. “If he had anything to say, it was always constructive…..never critical.”

 

After three promising seasons with the Morwell seniors, he’d come to the attention of Hawthorn, to whom he was residentially-bound. But, being eligible to play with Geelong under the father-son rule, Kardinia Park became his new home in 1977.

 

“Rod Olsson was the coach. He’d been a tough-nut at Hawthorn and tried to introduce that style of play. I think he appreciated that I was determined, reliable, and had a crack. But, you know, when you’re in your first season there’s a few doubts; I wasn’t sure whether I was good enough.”IMG_3560

 

He copped a few injuries, and won the Reserves B & F, in between playing nine senior games that year, but over the next couple of seasons became an established senior player, across the half back line.

 

“Billy Goggin took over from Rod Olsson, and his game was all based around pace. With me not being real quick, I struggled a bit under Billy. If you made a mistake he’d have you off the ground in a flash,” Ray says.

 

“In Bill’s third year – 1982 – I only played nine games, but was lucky enough to be part of
the Reserves Premiership side.”

 

Ray had been contemplating whether his future may lie elsewhere. Melbourne had a yarn, and waved a contract in front of him, but fate intervened when Tommy Hafey was appointed to succeed Goggin as the Cats’ leader.

 

“Tom took me aside and said he’d watched the Reserves Grand Final closely and was impressed by the way I played. He felt there was an important role for me in the side.”

 

“He was a great fellah, Tommy; a terrific coach. He let you settle in, and if you made a mistake he’d stick with you. I suppose, when I look back, I tried to adhere to his philosophies when I started out on my coaching journey.”

 

Hafey certainly brought out the best in Card. He enjoyed a brilliant season in defence in 1983, and took out the Carji Greaves Medal as Geelong’s Best & Fairest.

 

Then, just as he had scaled football’s heights, ‘Lady Luck’ showed what a fickle wench she could be. A shoulder injury proceeded to cost him twelve games of the following season.

 

Back to full fitness, he ‘blew out’ a knee in the opening round of 1985. A series of setbacks followed, including three major ‘ops’. Gruelling rehab would be followed by another devestating let-down.

 

He was limited to just two more games over three seasons. The end was nigh.

 

“I met with the Club at the end of 1987. I was going on 31, and, with my injury problems, they said they’d probably let me go……”

 

The 110-game VFL career of Ray Card was over………

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He received approaches from 17-18 clubs, and eventually narrowed it down to coaching offers from Redan (Ballarat F.L) and Wangaratta.

 

“Three blokes – Norm Sharp, ‘Smoky’ Dawson and Terry Johnson – interviewed me and convinced me to sign on with the Magpies,” Ray recalls.

 

He moved the family to Wangaratta and had a job as a rep with a confectionary company, (he was later to become Secretary-Manager of the Wangaratta Club for five years).

 

“I thought I’d line up at centre half back, pick up a few cheap kicks and direct traffic from there,” he says. “But in the opening game we played Wang Rovers, and this bloke took me apart, jumping all over me, and leaving me for dead on the ground. It was my introduction to Robbie Walker.”

 

“I thought, this is no good. I could read the play alright, so I re-evaluated things and decided to play on the ball.”

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The Pies fell to Yarrawonga in the Elimination Final that year, but in 1989 he believed they had a side that was nearly good enough to win the flag.

 

They finished second at the end of the home-and-away, but ‘copped’ a few injuries, along with a bout of ‘flu which swept through the club on the eve of the Qualifying Final. Despite a valiant effort, they were unable to rein in the Pigeons, who prevailed by 16 points.

 

The following week, the Rovers belted them by 112 points on a windswept Findlay Oval. The Pies’ season of promise had ended in the most humiliating fashion.

 

But Card had shown his mettle on the field. He finished fourth in the Morris Medal and was named in the O & M’s Team of the Year.

 

The story is told of him allaying the fears of Mary Naish, who was concerned that her baby was far too young to be playing senior O & M football. “Mrs.Naish,” he said, “ I’ll give you my guarantee that I’ll keep young Chris under my wing. He’ll be as safe as a church.”

 

“He was very popular with the players… a man’s man,” recalled one of his players. “Any dust-ups on the field were usually settled by Cardy fronting the opposition aggressor. He played hard and partied harder.”

 

“His powers of recovery astounded us. After a big night we’d drag ourselves along to KFC for brekkie, and notice him going past, pounding the bitumen on a 10 km run.”

 

After three seasons Card relinquished the coaching job at Wangaratta and was lured to Milawa as assistant-coach in 1991.

 

“It was very sociable out there in the O & K, and I made a heap of friends,” he says.

 

It proved to be a most enjoyable exercise. The Demons clinched an exciting Grand Final victory over Greta, after the Blues had led by 15 points going into time-on. And Card’s effort in winning the B & F was justification for his decision to have one last fling as a player.

 

After another year as non-playing coach of Milawa, then a brief foray as the O & M’s inter-league mentor, he looked forward to a respite from footy.

 

But Wangaratta sent out an SOS to him early in the 1994 season, when the incumbent coach, Graeme Cordy, resigned after Round 4.

 

“They’d asked me a few weeks earlier if I could give him a hand. I told them I didn’t think that was appropriate – having a former coach hovering around him. But when they came looking for a caretaker, I reluctantly agreed to do the job.”

 

For one reason or another, he remained as coach of the battling Pies for three seasons. The popularity of the coach was probably a factor in maintaining morale in the Club, as it entered some of the leanest times in its 120-year history.

 

When he finally resigned Card had become ( and remains ) the second-longest serving Wangaratta coach, behind the legendary Mac Holten.

 

Ray arranged a transfer in his job as a rep for Cadbury’s ( now Schweppe’s, with whom he’s been employed for 23 years), and re-located his family back to Geelong in the late nineties.

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Immediately approached to renew his link with the Cats, he served firstly as a runner, then an assistant-coach of the Reserves, for several years.

 

He recalls being involved with the Geelong Reserves team that won the flag in 2002. It included kids like Bartel, Ablett, Chapman and Johnson, who were just making their way in the game, and were to become crucial components of three famous Geelong premierships in succeeding years .

 

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“I took a keen interest, in particular, in the progress of Steve Johnson, who’d been a little tacker hanging around the rooms when I first started coaching at Wangaratta,” he says.

 

Ray has been President of the Geelong Past Players Association for three years. One of his roles is to host match-day functions at home games.

 

He remains as passionate as ever about the Cats, and still keeps a close eye on the week-end results, to keep track of his old clubs – Morwell, Wangaratta and Milawa.

 

He’s a true football fanatic, is Ray Card……..

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This piece was originally posted on KB Hill’s On Reflection blog.

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Comments

  1. Round 6 1978, Geelong had jumped North in the first term. Geelong , holding North scoreless, went to a 31 point lead. North were a bogey side for Geelong in that time. Geelong had not beaten North @ Kardinia Park since 1972. In the 11 clashes since then North had won 10. They also won this match.

    Ray Card’s bump on Keith Greig was deemed fair; no report , the game went on. In the current climate he would probably get 10-12 weeks suspension.

    Just on 12 months later we saw Stan Magro crunch Alex Jesaulenko in a similar manner. Again no report, the game went on.

    We’ve changed a lot since then.

    Glen!

  2. Fond memories of Ray Card. He was one of my favourites. Tough as nails.

  3. A great yarn, KB.
    I was a young North Melbourne supporter at the game when Greig was ko’d

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