“Veteran’s moment in the sun” by KB Hill

He’s the first person you’ll encounter when you enter the gates of the Findlay Oval for a Rovers home game. A weather-beaten old stager with a string of one-liners, and a sharp wit which has been known to cut the heftiest of egos down to size…

 

Up-and-coming Thirds players and gnarled, long-time supporters alike know him as ‘Bully. He’s one of those unique personalities who are an essential ingredient of any football club.

 


 

Noel Wise is the first to admit that the good Lord didn’t over-endow him with sporting genes. Toughness and determination were his prime assets, he says…

 

The nickname stems back to when he was a youngster, working out of town with the Railways, and returning home for footy on week-ends. His eating, drinking and training habits were a bit askew, with the result that he ‘blew out’ to beyond 15 stone. His coach, Noel Richens muttered one day: ‘Have a look at him running, will ya, he looks like a bloody big bull.”

 

‘Bully’ takes me back to his growing-up days in Rutherglen. He says he had an intense dislike of school, but didn’t envision his career at Rutherglen High coming to such an abrupt, and ignominious conclusion.

 

“What happened ?” I ask.

 

“Well, there were three or four of us mucking around, up the back of the classroom one day. The teacher produced a wooden ruler and whacked me across the ear. I took exception; grabbed him by the tie, and snotted him. That was it. I was out.”

 

He got a job walking greyhounds with one of the North-East’s leading trainers – ‘Nugget’ Martell . “He had about 50-odd dogs in work, and it kept me fit. I enjoyed it.”

 

As part of his job he had to drive ‘Nugget’s old ute to collect pig gut from the abattoirs and cook it up for dog-feed. The local cop, who he was on speaking terms with, questioned whether he had a licence.

 

“Nah, I don’t need to worry, do I ?” said ‘Bully’. “You better… Listen, bring 10 bob into the station in the morning, and I’ll give you one.”

 

He was walking the dogs past Barkly Park one Saturday, and peeked through a hole in the corrugated iron fence. “The Rovers were playing Rutherglen, and Bobby Rose was in full flight. It must have been one of his first games in Brown and Gold. He won me over. The Hawks became my club.”

 

‘Bully’ stayed on in Rutherglen for a couple of years, whilst the rest of the family – parents Bob and Dorrie and five siblings moved to Wangaratta. They’d become dyed-in-the-wool Magpie fans by the time he re-located.

 

“Gee they were staunch. Mum and Dad, my sister Lorraine and her husband Cliff all became Life Members; Graeme, my brother, was secretary for a few years…… They lived for Wang. They had no hope of winning me over, though.”

 

Instead, he headed out to Tarrawingee for a game. He’d started to track a young girl – Glenda Sheppard – who played netball for the Bullies, and whose parents Norm and Joan, had run the lolly-stall at home matches for ever and a day.

 

Glenda says she’s never liked football, and thinks the way Noel played the game turned her off it. “He was too rough,” she says.

 

She recalls playing netball up at King Valley, when one of the girls glanced across at the footy, and commented: “Did you see that.” I said: “Thank goodness Noel’s not in it.” “Well, he was the instigator,” was the reply.

 

I quiz the man in question about his memories of that occasion. “Yeah. Gary Holmes (Valley coach) told me he’d flatten me before the end of the game, and I decided I’d better get in first.”

 

That was just one of the incidents that resulted in ‘Bully’ being on first-name terms with the O&K Tribunal members. He went up about six or seven times, he says. His worst offence? Seven weeks for smacking King Valley’s Malcolm Kendall.

 

“Old Jack Foletti, the Chairman, said to me after I’d been up a few times: ‘You’re mad pleading not guilty, Noel. We know you did it. So I changed tack and pleaded ‘guilty under provocation’. Would you believe, I got off.”

 

‘Bully’ was at Tarra during some good times. Of the 280-odd games he played, 180 were in the Seniors. But no doubt the highlight came in 1964.

 

One of football’s enforcers, Ray Burns, had taken over the coaching job the previous year and had guided them to a one-point victory over his old team, Moyhu.

 

In the ‘64 decider they squared off against Greta in wet conditions at Whorouly. Burns lined up in the ruck, with the burly Wise as his ruck-rover side-kick. In what was probably the game of his life, ‘Bully’ was a star, alongside Burns, Roly Marklew and the elusive goal-sneak Dickie Grant, in the ‘Dogs’ 16-point triumph.

 

 

Another one of the Wise attributes was stamina. He could run all day, as was evidenced when he and a Bulldog team-mate, Johnny Carpenter, picked up a side-wager of 20 pounds for running from Tarra to Wangaratta in a set time. ‘Bully’ also points out a paper cutting of him leading the field of 70 into Wangaratta on a 25-mile charity run from Benalla, back in 1968.

 

His spell with the Railways was followed by an 18-year stint at Cohns, then his final – and probably best-known role – as the Manager of the Town Hall, for almost two decades.

 

He virtually played footy until he dropped. Just in case he was having second-thoughts, Glenda threw away his Gladstone Bag – complete with boots, guernsey and jock-strap – during a clean-out.

 

So ‘Bully’ became a fixture at the Bar end of the Hogan Stand, urging on the Hawks and acting as the principal protagonist of the umpires.

 

He admits that he was pretty severe on the men-in-white at times, but “I was only trying to be helpful…”

 

He played Bowls at Milawa in his latter years, but his main summer sport had been tennis, firstly out at Tarrawingee in the Ovens & King comp, then on to Wangaratta’s Lawn courts. He proved a popular figure at Merriwa Park, and a more than handy player.

 

Eventually, they coaxed him into travelling down to play at Country Week, on the makeshift – but beautifully-cultivated – courts of Albert Park and St.Kilda.

 

‘Bully’ revelled in the social atmosphere and established strong friendships with a host of opposition players – despite his fierce competitive streak.

 

It was an achievement to saddle up each day, because after-tennis drinks could sometimes stretch to 3 or 3.30am. The alarm was often raised for the veteran, when he went missing in the early hours. It was panic stations in one instance, before he was discovered, sound asleep in a bath tub.

 

The notoriously-short Wise fuse blew one day, when he sensed his opponent making several touchy line calls against him. He took it out on the racquet, and slammed it onto the court, with dire consequences – and a hasty call for a replacement. Team-mates nervously pondered whether it, too, may suffer the same fate.

 

“Lucky I knew this bastard’s family, because I was about to wrap the thing around his bloody neck.”

 


 

He eventually acceded to a request to man the gate at Rovers home games. He’s been in the job for nigh-on twenty years, and is so well-known that he has a word for everyone – whether it be advice, cheek or a back-handed compliment. If you were handing out gongs for gate-keepers, he’d be the Gold Medallist.

 

He was out of action for a few weeks this season, when his gall bladder played up. There were fears that his health, which had also been hindered by a stroke five years ago, might lead to his retirement. But he was back in full swing, after missing two matches.

 

The bane of his life are the numerous passes that are flashed at him by opposition players, supporters and officials.

 

If he’s in doubt, he’ll take the piece of paraphernalia in his grasp, fondle it suspiciously, sometimes quiz the holder as to how it came to be in their possession, then finally, having conducted the inquisition, hand it back.

 

I’ve seen him stand up O & M Board Members, or local celebrities who have attempted to brush past him, but my favourite occurred at a game this year, when a member of the constabulary parked his van on the nature strip and wandered through.

 

“Hoi,” barked ‘Bully’, “…What are you doing parkin’ there. We take a bit of pride in that lawn…….If one of us did that you’d book us…..You know better than that….”

The ‘offender’ looked back, startled, but didn’t realise the mickey was being taken out of him…

 


 

Noel Wise’s service to the Hawks was rewarded three weeks ago when a Life Membership was conferred upon him.

 

He was suitably chuffed and, for a brief moment, lost for words. When he gathered his equilibrium, he then delivered some pearls of wisdom to a captive audience…

 

 

 

 

 

KB’s original article can be read here along with other fine works at his site, “On Reflection” here.

 

 

 

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