VAFA Division One Round 8 – NOBs/St Pat’s v MHSOB: Parklife

“All the people
So many people
They all go hand-in-hand
Hand in hand through their parklife…”
– Blur, Parklife

Glorious autumn sun bathes Brunswick East on a Saturday afternoon. This will be a further point on a scatter plot that matches human induced climate change predictions. We’ll soon go the way of all other species to have graced the Earth. We’re not that different.

For now I’m on the #508 bus across to Brunswick West. Bike tyre flat; tyre levers unwilling be found. Bus it is. I’m off to Gillon Oval for some footy.
It’s North Old Boys / St Pat’s College at home to Melbourne High School Old Boys. It’s Division One of the Victorian Amateur Football Association; a competition of pride and spirit, promotion and relegation. Division One is a curiously named Division Four, sitting beneath Premier Division, Premier B and Premier C. Who comes up with this stuff?

Gillon Oval is a cracker. Paul Daffey wrote an Almanac piece about it here.

I was schooled at Melbourne High for Years 9-12. Played footy with the school teams throughout. I was never that good; tall though. Grand memories of All High, Herald-Sun shield, field days at Assumption College and Melbourne Grammar. Memorable games at Scotch, Wesley, Traralgon, Arden Street. Our coach Warren Fall was a beauty. My Year 12 Chemistry teacher, year 12 coordinator, leader of young men. I played in his midweek and weekend teams during the winters of Years 11 and 12. We won premierships and gave and received floggings around Victoria.
It’s quarter time when I arrive.
NOBSPC 8.2.40
MHSOB 2.2.14

Dogs and kids play.
“How’s the snag? What do you give it out of 10?”
“Seven and a half.”
It’s an open game. Fast. The oval is huge and looks a suburban picture.
NOBSPC are too big.
It’s men versus boys.

And here’s Warren Fall, himself.
“G’day WAF.”
“G’day big fella.”
“How’s this going?”
“Did you bring a mouthguard? Reckon I could find you the other gear.”
“No, we could do with an extra ruckman.”
“Ah, well.”
Good chat. Though I’m feeling a wistful now. I lost interest in footy at around age 17, as uni and girls and other priorities lobbed into view. Never played a game beyond Year 12. And then at age 19 I sustained a broken neck and that was the end of any footy thoughts.
Chatting with WAF today and I’m taken back to a youth where anything was possible. And I’m comparing it with a now, which is much more limited. It’s like I’m inside a Paul Kelly song.

NOBSPC 15.7.97
MHSOB 4.4.28
What a great late autumn day in the sun. The NOBSPC club is running “Ladies day” today. Appropriately enough, ladies fill the clubrooms. Loud chatter. At the canteen next door, a roast beef roll costs $3.50. I walk out to the centre. I’m on the ground. Goal umpire introduces himself. Been umpiring 35 years.
“You staying for a beer later?”
“Did you see Shane Crawford over there? Lovely fella. Country boy. You should say hello.”

A fast, open game continues. And there’s Shane Crawford, over behind the goals. Kids all around him. I walk over. Say g’day. It’s a bit awkward.
“G’day Shane Crawford.”
“G’day mate.
“Dave. I’m Dave. I played against you up at Assumption College.”
“Did you mate?”
“Yep. You cleaned us up.”
“Ah. Did you play today?”
“No mate. No, not since 1992. Congratulations on your work.”
“Ah, thanks.”

Good stuff; though I feel a bit of a goose.
NOBSPC go further ahead.

NOBSPC 19.10.124
MHSOB 5.7.37
I’m at the MHSOB 3/4 time huddle.
“No one gave up!”
“Great effort!”
“Work on set plays.”
“Work on forward entries.”
“Run so much better.”
“Win the quarter!”

And I’m up into the AR Glen stand for the last. Views over northern suburbia.
Despite the effort, it’s still men against boys in the last.
At the conclusion, both teams form a guard of honour as a pair of NOBSPC players are chaired off. A little girl holds a sign saying: “My dad is a legend – 300 games”
Well done, him. And her.

NOBSPC 26.15.171
MHSOB 9.10.64

MHSOB are now bottom of the ladder. For a time they played in the top Division. But recruiting has proven difficult. The biggest recruiting source used to be the school population, but with changing school demographics, there isn’t the same flow on into the footy club as there used to be. When I was in Year 12, we would talk about earlier graduates Matthew Knights and Garry Lyon and Andrew Phillips. Ilija Grgic came back to school and took us for training one night. David Parkin’s name was invoked.

This was a sad/happy day. Sad to think of a life now gone. Doubtful to think of what may yet be. But great parklife. Great local parklife. Thoroughly enjoyable to see the volunteers who run these places: in the canteen; escorting the umpires; waving the flags; touting the raffle; barracking; sitting in groups; rating the snags; waving signs to their dad.

From the VAFA website:

NOBSPC: Goal Kickers: D. Tonkin 5, M. Chapman 5, M. Keown 5, M. Dunlop 2, S. Sleep 2, J. Mirtschin 2, D. Clarkson 2, J. Nettlefold , C. Ryan , P. Shepherd
MHSOB: L. Toman 2, A. Svirskis 2, N. Hawking , S. Villani , M. Hamilton-Ho , N. Clampett , L. Hood
NOBSPC: P. Kelly, D. Tonkin, J. Nettlefold, M. Keown, J. Mirtschin, S. Sleep
MHSOB: J. Wood, M. Hamilton-Ho, T. Rendell, L. Toman, A. Svirskis, T. Harper

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Rod Oaten says

    It’s a bit sad how the “Old Boys” are going this season. A few years ago they were in A Grade now known as Premier, and were on top of the ladder when they beat University Blues at University Oval around the middle of the season. Lets hope things get better in the future for the club.

  2. Great yarn ER. I needed a bit of community footy goodwill today to lift me out of my post Eaglian depression.
    Love the line about “touting the raffle”. Great word “tout”. Sets a tone and sends a message without being overly derogatory. A chancer not a scumbag.
    Is there really a Gillon Oval, or is this another of your in-jokes? Wouldn’t put it past the egomaniac to get the MCG name changed. Maybe we can call Etihad the Demetriou Dump?

  3. Dave Lazzaro says

    Talk about taking me back Dave. And don’t sell yourself short. Without doubt you were the best rover trapped in a ruckman’s body I ever played with! I remember the Grgic training session well too!

  4. Luke Reynolds says

    Lovely story David. Real footy with real footy people.
    $3.50 roast beef rolls. Would be $13.50 at the AFL.

  5. There certainly is a Gillon Oval, the old home of the Brunswick VFA side.
    I’ve made so many trips there as Tom plays in the Brunswick subbies…the sub district cricket comp has many similarities to the old VFA composition. The old grandstand gives a fantasic view across the ‘burbs. The clubrooms need brightening – the changerooms arte circa 1950s.

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Great stuff ER

    In Adelaide at least, the term “Parklands football” was used as a derogatory term the indicate a low standard SANFL match (“… it looks like Parklands football at the moment Wally …”)

    Having played more than half of my senior footy in the Adelaide Parklands itself (mainly north and south of the CBD), I think that the term should be reclaimed as a compliment.

    Adelaide Oval itself lies within the Parklands, almost as importantly as Bob Neil #1.

  7. E.regnans says

    Cheers all.
    Rod – yep, I agree.
    PB – I’m sure A Demetriou will earn an appropriate moniker. We don’t get to choose how we’re remembered, after all.
    Speedy Lazzaro – brilliant. I recall those stab kicks of Ilija Grgic re-calibrating our scale of “how hard it is possible to kick a Sherrin.”
    Crio – Didn’t duck into the rooms, but I fear nothing has changed since you were there last.
    Swish – great call. Park footy is and should be a celebration.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks OBP and yep while I enjoyed yesterday re crows give me , Bob Neil 1 every time , volunteers doing everything it is real footy not a industry
    ( even with the dramas with the point system and with the money payed to players by other clubs things which I detest )

  9. Peter Fuller says

    Further to Crio’s confirmation that the ground is Gillon Oval, I can reassure you that it is named for a VFA stalwart Alex Gillon, not the newly elevated figure at the AFL.
    Alex was a player and official at Brunswick, then became longest-serving President of the VFA 1954-80. During that period he was a vigorous (even hostile) antagonist of the VFL. Alex was a real innovator, introducing 16 a side (wings eliminated) and making Sunday football a regular event, and this became the VFA’s property for almost two decades, until the VFL began to force the Government’s hand. VFA matches were telecast direct, when the VFL policy was to limit this to replays. Attendances of 12,000 – 15,000 were common, and even higher for Finals.
    Quality VFL players were recruited to the Association, during the golden days of the VFA (mid-60s-mid 70s) because official remuneration in the VFL was subject to quite strict limits. In the mid-60s the VFA unilaterally abandoned the clearance agreement with the VFL, and there was considerable traffic in both directions, though numerically much more to the Sunday comp. Kevin Sheedy was a notable example in the opposite direction, crossing from Prahran to Richmond without a clearance.
    I’ve played, umpired and watched matches at the ground, and also was there for the Footy Almanac-Overland magazine cricket grudge match a few years back.

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