WANGARATTA ROVERS FOOTBALL & NETBALL CLUB Inc.: Club History: The History of the Wangaratta Rovers FNC - 2006 - by Paul Daffey.

Friday, December 22
The History of the Wangaratta Rovers FNC - 2006 - by Paul Daffey.
This attached document is a template chapter for a proposal to the State Government about compiling a compendium of Victorian country football clubs. There are 500 senior country footy clubs in Victoria.
Melbourne journalist and author Paul Daffey chose the Wang Rovers FC as the club on which to base his proposal because of the club's successful history and because of the help he knew he would readily receive from Rovers club historians Kevin Hill and Justin Kelly.

When formed:
A meeting was held in the hall at St Patrick’s Catholic Church, Wangaratta, in January 1945 with a view to forming a football club to accommodate the surplus youth in town. The Wangaratta Rovers Football Club was formed, with policeman Maurice Walsh as president. The first match was played against Tarrawingee at the Wangaratta Showgrounds in April 1945.
The first coach was George Healey. According to the club’s 1980 history, The Hawk Story, fifteen of the eighteen who took the field for the first game were still at school. Competitions in which the club has played: Ovens and King Football League 1945-49; Ovens and Murray Football League 1950 onwards.

Home ground:
The Rovers shared the Wangaratta Showgrounds oval with the Wangaratta Football Club before gaining permission to use the ground over the road from the Showgrounds, which was known as the Cricket Ground.
The Rovers continued to play at the Showgrounds while holding working bees at the Cricket Ground for three years, from 1950 to ’52; soil was lugged from Eldorado, east of Wangaratta, to build up the embankment around the oval.
In 1953, the Rovers moved across to the Cricket Ground. In 1959, the Borough of Wangaratta was renamed the City of Wangaratta; the name of the cricket ground was later changed to the City Oval. The oval was renamed again in the early 1990s after the death of Bill Findlay. Findlay was a prominent administrator in the Rovers’ early days, as well as a long-time Wangaratta City councillor. The Rovers’ ground is known as the W.J. Findlay Oval in his honour.
Club Guernsey:
The Rovers wore variations of black and white while playing in the Ovens and King Football League immediately after the Second World War, but switched to Hawthorn Football Club colours after entering the Ovens and Murray league in 1950. The change was forced because the Wangaratta Football Club, a founding member of the Ovens and Murray league, was wearing Collingwood’s black and white stripes. The Rovers wore brown with a gold “V” until 1954, when they followed the lead of Hawthorn, which had swapped from the “V” guernsey to brown and gold vertical stripes in 1950. The Rovers continue to wear brown and gold stripes today.

Club Nickname:
The Hawks or the Rovers.

1948 (Ovens and King),
1960, 1964-65,
1971-72, 1974-75, 1977-79,
1991, 1993-94 (Ovens and Murray).
200 senior games:
Anthony Pasquali (322); Mark Booth (319); Mick Wilson (316), Matthew Allen (315*), Robbie Walker (307), Mervyn Holmes (302), Michael Caruso (265), Andrew Wilson (258), Leigh Hartwig (252), Neville Hogan (246), Steve Norman (242), Joe Wilson (240), Ron Ferguson (240), Len Greskie (236), Rick Marklew (229), Barry Cook (215), Peter Tossol (211), Ross Hill (202*). * Still playing

VFL/AFL players produced:
Barrie Beattie (Footscray: 1966, 4 games, 4 goals); Paul Bryce (North Melbourne: 1987-90, 48 games, 26 goals; Melbourne: 1991-92, 26 games, 3 goals; Sydney: 1993, 17 games, 14 goals); Norm Bussell (Hawthorn: 1968-73, 114 games, 2 goals); John Byrne (North Melbourne: 1975-82, 98 games, 71 goals); Alipate Carlile (Port Adelaide: 2006-*, 1 game, 0 goals); Alan Dale (Essendon: 1950-53 and ’56, 45 games, 3 goals; St Kilda: 1956-57, 17 games, 2 goals); Kevin Dellar (Essendon: 1959, 5 goals, 0 goals); Phillip Doherty (North Melbourne: 1972-73, 11 games, 19 goals); Les Gregory (St Kilda: 1959, 3 games, 0 goals); Michael Hallahan (Fitzroy: 1967, 3 games, 0 goals); Dean Harding (Fitzroy: 1991-93, 19 games, 26 goals); Robert Hickmott (Melbourne: 1990, 2 games, 0 goals); Mac Hill (Collingwood: 1950, 2 games, 0 goals); Graeme Leydin (Essendon: 1959-61 and ’64; 35 games, 18 goals); Luke Mullins (Collingwood: 2004, 3 games, 0 goals); Mick Nolan (North Melbourne: 1973-80, 107 games, 40 goals); Karl Norman (Carlton: 2003-05, 27 games, 5 goals); Sean O’Keefe (Carlton: 2002-03, 6 games, 1 goal); Tim Rienits (Carlton: 1990-91, 24 games, 6 goals); Rohan Robertson (North Melbourne: 1985-88, 26 games, 7 goals); Shane Robertson (North Melbourne: 1985, 4 games, 1 goal). * Still playing

Life membership
Criteria: Ten years’ service as a player or coach. Ten years’ service as an official or volunteer, to be approved at the discretion of the club board. Victory in the Morris Medal for best and fairest in the Ovens and Murray league.
Life members:
Matthew Allen, Jim Anderson, Norman Barry, Ken Batey, O.A. Batey (deceased), Lisa Beck, Alan Bell, Graeme Bell, Peter Bell, Mark Booth, Alex Burns, Laurie Burt, Mick Caruso, Les Clarke, Emmanuel Cochineas (deceased), Brian Condon, Barry Cook, Eric Cornelius, Bruce Desmond, Ken Dodemaide (deceased), Ray Donnelly, Vin Drake, Greg Elliott, Ron Ferguson, William Findlay (deceased), Eddie Flynn, Pat Flynn, Frank Gleeson (deceased), Jason Gorman, Les Gregory, Len Greskie, Jim Hallahan (deceased), Leigh Hartwig, Alan Hay (deceased), Frank Hayes (deceased), Barrie Henderson, Barry Hill, Denis Hill, Kevin Hill, Len Hill, Ross Hill, Noel Hiskins, Neville Hogan, Merv Holmes, Charlie Huggins, Ken Johnstone, Joe Kawecki, Justin Kelly, Rick Marklew, Roley Marklew, Jack Maroney (deceased), Betty Matthews, Peter Matthews, Stuart McAliece, Graeme McDonald, Russell McDonald, Kevin Mitchell (deceased), Frank Naylon (deceased), Steve Norman, Brian O’Brien, Gary O’Keefe, Lionel O’Neill, George Ottaway (deceased), Keith Ottrey, Anthony Pasquali, Ernie Payne (deceased), Sam Perna, Arthur Phillips (deceased), Tom Phillips (deceased), Jack Prendergast (deceased), Patricia Prendergast, Peter Prest (deceased), Mick Ralston, Steve Ralston, Ian Rees, Kevin Rhodes, Wally Richards (deceased), Noel Richens, Bob Rose (deceased), Greg Rosser, Brian Sammon, Vern Scammell (deceased), Andrew Scott, Ray Smart (deceased), Bill Smith, Darryl Smith, John Spence, Phyllis Stone, Jack Stubbs (deceased), Barry Sullivan, Ray Thompson, Tom Tobin, Peter Tossol, Vern Tripp (deceased), Robbie Walker, Veronica Walsh (deceased), Noel Warren (deceased), Geoff Welch, John Welch, Shane Welch, John West, Jack Williams (deceased), Andrew Wilson, Chas Wilson, Joe Wilson, Mick Wilson, Toni Wilson, Dennis Wohlers, Shane Wohlers, Howard Yelland.

Key officials:

Emmanuel “Manny” Cochineas
was a prosperous businessman who owned a café and a fish and chip shop in Murphy Street, the main street in Wangaratta. He joined the Rovers’ committee while the club was still in the Ovens and King league and inspired the club to think big. While fundraising was his specialty, he was also a successful recruiting agent; he drove all around Victoria in his black Pontiac in attempts to sign talent. When the club needed a coach for the 1956 season, it was Cochineas who said it should aim for the best available footballer in Australia. He was then instrumental in recruiting Bob Rose, who had won Collingwood’s Copeland Trophy on four occasions. During Rose’s seven years with the Rovers, he ran a sports store in one of Cochineas’s premises in Murphy Street. When Cochineas moved to Sydney for family reasons, on Saturday afternoons he would drive to a certain point on the coastline where it was possible to pick up the broadcasts of Ovens and Murray games on 3NE or 2AY. It’s said that Cochineas was listening to a match featuring his beloved Rovers when he suffered a heart attack and died.

Len Hill was captain-coach of the Rovers for three years, from 1947 to ’49, and remained heavily involved long after his playing days had ended. He served as president, selector and fundraiser, and was a strong figure around the club until his death in 1986 at the age of sixty-nine. With Frank Hayes, who was secretary in the 1950s, Hill was part of a great administrative team. Beyond the club, Hill and Hayes opened Wangaratta Furnishings in 1953. Hill’s six sons — Brian, Frank, Kevin, Denis, Alan and Graham — played for the Rovers’ seniors or reserves and four of them later took over the furniture business. In 2006, Kevin’s son Ross Hill, a wingman before moving to centre half-forward, became the first Rovers player to pass the 200-game milestone without playing in a premiership.

Sam Perna ran a farm machinery business. At the Rovers, he was a battling reserves defender who went on to make his mark as an administrator. He was president from 1985 to ’97, an era in which the club faced many challenges despite winning four premierships. Under Perna, the club began a program of ground improvements that included upgrading the netball courts and installing new lights.

Jack Maroney was an administrator for twenty-eight years, including sixteen years as president, before stepping back from administrative duties after the 1976 season. Throughout his leadership, the Wangaratta stock and station agent was regarded as the Rovers’ gruff father figure. If the senior team lost, players were afraid to look him in the eye. If the team lost a handful of games in a row, the players would feel Maroney’s wrath during a blast after training on a Thursday night. The J.W. Maroney Pavilion, built through voluntary labour before the 1965 season, was named after him.

Legendary Players:

Matthew Allen is a champion full-back with a strong pair of hands and an unorthodox, but efficient, kicking style. After pestering coaches to move him forward, the farmer from just out of Beechworth spent a couple of seasons at full-forward, kicking fourteen goals in a game and eighty goals in a season. He also had success in attack with Ovens and Murray rival Corowa-Rutherglen, where he played fifty-four games, but it’s been as a cool defender with the Rovers that he will be remembered. Allen is renowned for sauntering into the rooms wearing an untucked flannelette shirt and an easy smile. His laconic manner puts teammates at ease. His impregnability in defence puts both teammates and fans at ease.

Mark Booth was a nuggety and skilled rover who broke into the Rovers’ senior team at sixteen years of age and played 319 games—then a club record—before retiring in 1992. An engineer with Australian defence industries, he played in five premiership teams but missed out on being a member of the 1988 premiership team when he was suspended after the final home and away game.

Former South Melbourne ruckman Ken Boyd’s debut with the Rovers in 1962 was delayed by eight weeks because he had been suspended for ten matches for punching Carlton great John Nicholls towards the end of the 1961 VFL season. An astute coach and a charismatic figure, Boyd was captain-coach in successive Rovers’ flags, in 1964-65. In 1964, after a particularly rugged second semi-final against Wangaratta, Boyd sidled up to Wangaratta’s Bernie Killeen before the grand final and a put a question to him. “Fight or footy?” he asked. Killeen was on the ground before the opening bounce. This period was marred by Boyd’s writ for damages after Melbourne daily newspaper The Herald suggested Boyd had acted shamefully in knocking out Corowa coach Frank Tuck, who was a former Collingwood captain. The incident happened on the scoreboard side of the Rovers’ ground in 1964. Boyd always claimed it was a shirtfront within the rules. Tuck had his jaw broken and was carried off the ground while angry scenes erupted among spectators. The case went before the Supreme Court in 1966. The trial was covered in detail by The Sun News Pictorial in Melbourne. Boyd was awarded damages, but it was one of his few victories for the year as he struggled with a back injury. He hobbled onto the ground during the 1966 finals. His last game was the 1966 preliminary final loss to Wangaratta, during which he was reported four times. His eight-match suspension did nothing to dent his mighty standing among Rovers people.

Laurie Burt was recruited from VFA club Coburg in 1984. A bustling centreman and prolific kick-winner despite his lack of pace, in much the manner that Greg Williams played at Carlton, he took over as the Rovers’ playing-coach in 1987 and remained coach for eleven years. A teacher in Wangaratta, his record of coaching four young teams to premierships, in 1988, ’91 and ’93-94, reflected his ability as a leader of young men.

Norm Bussell was a sixteen-year-old recruit from King Valley when he made his senior debut in 1961. Seven years later, in 1968, he joined Hawthorn, where he played at centre half-back in the Hawks’ 1971 VFL premiership team. In 1974, he moved on to a farm at Whorouly and resumed at the Rovers as a player and assistant coach. A key defender who was tough and rangy, he played in 143 games with the Rovers and was a member of four premiership teams. He won two best-and-fairest awards.

Michael Caruso, originally from Maryborough, joined the Rovers after moving to North-East Victoria to become a teacher at Rutherglen High School. He was a rover with fitness and nous, as well as pinpoint disposal. After three years as playing-coach at Greta, he returned to the Rovers at forty years of age and played in a back pocket. His final game was in 2004, at forty-two years of age. Caruso’s career with the Rovers included two Simpson Medals for best on ground in a grand final and two best-and-fairest awards. Many regard him as the best rover to play for the Rovers.

Len Greskie was recruited from Moyhu as a tenacious rover and played in the 1958 and ’60 premiership teams, under Bob Rose, before settling in as a mean-spirited back pocket. He was part of a ruthless defence in the 1964-65 premiership teams and played every game from 1958 to ’69 — a total of 236 consecutive matches. In 1970, in his first match as captain-coach of North Wangaratta, he broke his leg.

Neville Hogan, a centreman recruited from Moyhu, was a prolific ball-getter and superb left-foot kick. He played for fourteen years, from 1963 to ’76, and was a member of four premiership teams. His list of honours includes four club best-and-fairest awards and the 1966 Morris Medal. After a semi-final against Yarrawonga at Benalla, his sister Denise Hogan, who took his statistics, credited him with fifty kicks. In 1970, Neville Hogan became the first local player to coach the Rovers (the club previously had recruited only coaches with VFL or VFA playing experience). He did a sterling job over seven seasons. Late in 1976, after his final season as a player and coach, more than 250 supporters of both the Rovers and rival clubs attended Hogan’s testimonial dinner at the Wangaratta Town Hall, where it was announced that the shelter at the City Oval was to be named the Neville Hogan Stand.
Merv Holmes, a plain-speaking dairy farmer recruited from Milawa, played 302 uncompromising games at centre half-back from 1972 to ’86. He played in six premiership teams and coached the club for two years, in 1985 and ’86. A measure of his toughness was that, after dislocating his ankle halfway through the 1980 season to the extent that most thought his career would end, he was selected to play in the 1980 grand final, which the Rovers lost to North Albury. Holmes was named in the best players.

Mick Nolan was recruited from Tarrawingee, just east of Wangaratta, in 1968 and played 101 games for the Rovers. His hefty frame belied the deftness of his tap work. In 1972, North Melbourne official Ron Joseph went to the Rovers’ grand final to watch a young ruck-rover named John Byrne and went home with Nolan’s name in his notebook. Nolan became a cult figure at Arden Street, in the shadow of the gasometer that led to his nickname in the Melbourne press, the “Galloping Gasometer”. He was first ruck in the Roos’ 1975 VFL premiership team, the first in North Melbourne’s history. Byrne played in the Roos’ 1977 premiership team.

The Rovers played largely with makeshift full-forwards until the emergence of the athletic Steve Norman, who kicked 1016 goals in a career spanning fifteen seasons, from 1969 to ’83. Norman, an electrician, had the knack of finding open space on the lead, and he was an accurate kick for goal. He kicked more than 100 goals in three seasons and played in seven premiership teams. In recent years, he’s been better known as the father of Carlton defender Karl Norman, who, when he was drafted from the Rovers in 2002, became one of the few players in the modern era to be drafted to the AFL from a country football club.

Anthony Pasquali grew up on a tobacco farm in the King Valley. On Saturday afternoons, he would listen to broadcasts of Rovers games on 3NE. At sixteen, he walked into the Wangaratta sports shop that was owned by former Rovers stars John Welch and Eric Cornelius and asked how he could join the club. Pasquali served a long apprenticeship in the thirds and reserves before cementing a position in the senior team. A great mark for his size and blessed with endurance, he could play in key positions or on the ball. He coached the Rovers for two years and played the last of his 322 senior games — a club record — in 2005. He also coached Benalla in the Goulburn Valley Football League for two years, and won that competition’s 1999 Morrison Medal.

Bob Rose created huge interest in Ovens and Murray football when he was appointed playing-coach at the Rovers before the 1956 season, at the age of twenty-seven. Rose was at the Rovers for seven seasons, coaching the club to premierships in 1958 and ’60. In 1958 he lost the Morris Medal on a countback to Myrtleford’s Jim Deane before kicking six goals in the grand final. In 1960 he won the Morris Medal and shared the league goalkicking award with Wangaratta’s Bob Constable; they kicked 65 goals. In his final game for the Rovers, the 1962 grand final against Benalla, Rose had more than twenty kicks by half-time and just failed to take his club to another flag. At the end of the season, having set the Rovers on the road to becoming one of the most highly regarded country football clubs in Victoria, he returned to Collingwood, where he was named vice-president. The following year, in 1964, he began coaching the Magpies.

Classy ruck-rover and half-forward Andrew Scott, originally from Sorrento, played six senior games at Hawthorn before moving to Wangaratta through his job as a policeman. In 1975, he enjoyed a brilliant debut season with the Rovers, winning the Morris Medal and playing a match-winning final quarter in the grand final. His delivery out of the centre in wet conditions helped the Rovers to a narrow victory over North Albury. A crowd favourite, Scott played 181 games over ten years.

Darryl Smith was recruited from Hastings in 1972 and played most of his football with the Rovers at centre half-forward. In 1977, as playing-coach, he guided the club to its first of three consecutive premierships. He stepped down as coach in 1981 but played on for two more years, amassing 195 games.

Robbie Walker had an epiphany as a twenty-two-year-old that, in years to come, would leave opposition players rueing the day. After being spurned by North Melbourne and returning to Wangaratta to play a nondescript 1990 season with the Rovers, he decided he should apply himself to football or not play at all. He set himself an arduous pre-season schedule that included weights and running repetitions. During the season, he maintained strict discipline. He played in four premierships as a hard-running centre half-forward before playing another decade as a midfielder. His ambition before each game was to get to 100 contests. A feature of his performances was starting matches slowly before finishing like a train. Walker’s fitness was such that opponents were left gasping, and occasionally retching, by the last quarter. In numerical terms, he’s indisputably the most decorated footballer in Ovens and Murray history. Walker won twelve club best-and-fairest awards in thirteen years, from 1991 to 2003, as well as five Morris Medals. In the year he missed the Rovers’ best-and-fairest award, in 1996, he finished second to centreman Joe Wilson, after moving from centre half-forward to the midfield halfway through the season. Throughout Walker’s career, he was considered the best country footballer in Australia. He retired in 2005 because of a mysterious back injury.

As boys in Mildura, Mick, Joe and Andrew Wilson would wrestle their way around the boundary line while their father Chas played for Mildura Imperials. At home, they wrestled their way around the back yard. After the family had moved to Tarrawingee and the boys had joined Wangaratta Rovers, the trio took their brotherly combativeness on to the field. Mick and Andrew, especially, were tough and determined, while Joe’s soft hands and ability to step through traffic gave him an artful touch. In 1993, the three brothers, who are nephews of Mick Nolan, finished second, third and fourth in the club best-and-fairest award behind Robbie Walker. They played a combined total of 818 senior games with the Rovers. No wonder their mother Toni Wilson was aligned with the woman who was once the most famous mother in football, the mother of Essendon’s four Daniher brothers. After a Rovers’ grand final victory, a sign appeared in Wangaratta. “Thank God for Edna Daniher and Toni Wilson,” it said.

Since Ovens and Murray netball began in 1993, the Wangaratta Rovers have won four premierships, in 1993-94 and 2005-06. Toni Wilson has been the main force in the netballers’ success, through her influence as a coach and administrator. Lisa Beck, sister of 300-game defender Matthew Allen, has played in the netballers’ four premiership teams. She has also coached for two years and won three best-and-fairest awards.

After winning the 1964 premiership under Ken Boyd, Wangaratta Rovers made what they claim was the first overseas trip by a country football club. Players and officials had a wonderful time in New Zealand before returning home and building the Maroney Pavilion during a summer of working bees.
Neville Hogan’s predecessors as coach of the Rovers in the Ovens and Murray league included Ken Bodger (Hawthorn), Don Holbrook (Coburg), Alan Dale (Essendon), Bob Rose (Collingwood), Ken Boyd (South Melbourne) and Ian Brewer (Collingwood).
In 1993-94, under non-playing coach Laurie Burt, who had retired as a player after the 1991 grand final win, the Rovers won thirty-six consecutive games. The 1994 grand final against Wodonga was tight before Robbie Walker took five marks in as many minutes and kicked three goals to turn the game.
In 1997, with the club labouring under a debt of $180,000 after a decade of improvements at their ground, Rovers players agreed to play as amateurs for a season. No top-line players left the club because they wanted to be paid. The Rovers finished sixth. Robbie Walker won the club best-and-fairest award ahead of John O’Donohue, who played most of that season at centre half-forward.
The Rovers are exceedingly proud of their milestone players. A large display of every player to have played more than 100 games greets those who walk into the upstairs foyer in the Maroney Pavilion.
The high number of footballers who spend long careers at the Rovers suggest a club of rare stability and success.

By - Paul Daffey, December 2006.

Handout: The History of the WRFNC.2006