North Old Boys were a competitive combination throughout the 1980’s. During this decade we participated in finals on five occasions; played in three grand finals and achieved the ultimate success winning the A Section premiership in 1982. For 24 seasons from 1972 to 1995 we were a proud and committed A Grade club. This sustained period of success was the envy of most teams in the competition. The table below shows our success throughout the 1980’s.
Arguably some of our success could be attributed to our home ground advantage. We rarely lost at Brens Oval, our former home ground in Parkville. We managed the conditions better including the black Merri creek mud in the centre, the strong winds and the dead pocket. It was evident that most opposition teams didn’t enjoy our home ground.
Memories include the towering gum tree that overhung centre wing, the quaint scoreboard on the opposite wing, the slight hill on the flank were our vocal supporters gathered and the narrow drive into the carpark where numerous opposition players and supporters received parking fines from the inhospitable Melbourne Council parking officers. For many years Brens oval had inadequate lighting which enabled veterans including wily Mick Welch and Barry ‘Kanga’ O’Connor to ‘hide’ in the shadows during circle work.
Most change rooms were basic but the Brens rooms were similar to a cellblock. We shared the showers with the opposition and the drains would often block with water seeping across the floor. We knew the routine and would place our bags high and dry on the seats. Our unsuspecting opponents didn’t and left Brens cold, wet and mostly beaten.
One particularly cold wet winter’s day, when Scotch and OM’s would have retired to the snow, Senior Coach Scanlon handed all the players a nip of brandy at half time. Apparently it wasn’t performance enhancing but Dom Butera certainly excelled in the second half and we won handsomely.
In the early ’80’s after much planning, fundraising and assistance from many volunteers the Social Rooms were constructed. After match celebrations were packed. Behind the bar was a glass cabinet with rows of pewter mugs that entitled the financial members free after match refreshments. The club had over 100 mugs and the most frequently used belonged to Fuzz.
It wasn’t unusual to be trapped until 8.00pm and the last to leave would be required to close the external shutters and operate the difficult locking system comprising a pair of long bent poles and a padlock.
On two occasions players had accidents negotiating the long driveway from the social rooms. One player misjudged the left turn at the Macarthur Road T intersection and clipped a passing vehicle and the other player saw blue flashing lights as he departed, decided to retreat and reversed into the social rooms, leaving a hole in the wall. Fortunately no one was injured.
Mobile phones were non-existent and I would often apologise to my girlfriend for being late and being unable to call as there “wasn’t a phone in the clubrooms”. This excuse came unstuck when my girlfriend attended a game and during after match celebrations wanted to leave to make a call. I made a big mistake by explaining that there was a pay phone in the corner!
Training was often fiercely competitive and some serious injuries were sustained. Unfortunately, Chris Hibbert suffered a broken leg at training and Phil Youngs received a fractured skull in a tackling exercise. But training was always interesting. Coach Terry Scanlon after several losses decided on a unique approach – a Monday session was announced with runners required. We feared a torturous session but ‘monobrow’ made us run along Royal Parade where he invited the team into Naughton’s Hotel for a bonding session in the front bar. Fortunately there was no law against running under the influence.
Such was the camaraderie at NOB’s that one training night when a player lost his wedding ring on the oval, the entire club lined up on hands and knees and searched the ground. We were unsuccessful but the newlywed returned the following morning with a metal detector and found his missing ring.
Jerome Griffin our Club Captain and VAFA representative Full Back was often challenged by fast leading forwards. Affable Joe “Ace’ Cahill who was a warrior at best, claimed he wasn’t the slowest player at the Club. A match race was arranged after training and to the delight of his teammates Ace didn’t lose to Jerome – it was a draw.
After training a handball competition was a feature in the showers with naked footballers trying to aim the Sherrin at the adjoining toilet bowls whilst the theme to World Championship Wrestling was sung. Brian Hanlon, Tony Egan, Tony Cahill, Sam Zocco & Keg Tierney were the originators.
Every Thursday after training we were greeted by Tommy O’Toole, Joe Cahill, Gordon Egan and George ‘Hollywood’ Moloney with soup, dim sims and toasted sandwiches as we waited for the teams to be announced. Fuzz and Sitchy worked the bar. During this period we had four teams (Seniors, Reserves, Warriors & Under 19’s) and there was always excitement in the rooms because being selected to represent North was an honour.
We had inspiring coaches throughout the ’80’s including John Jordan, Terry Scanlon, Jim Durnan and Mark Hanneberry whilst Robert Hyde joined us in 1990. Our captains who were all wonderful leaders of our Club included Mauro Borcich, Jerome Griffin, Paul Considine and Steve O’Rourke.
Our club was well lead by professional executives. Shane Maguire, Damian Maguire, Stephen Maule, John Jordan and Paul Lacava practised law. Kevin Meredith and Dennis Fogarty were experienced tax accountants. Tony Duggan was a Senior Executive at Tennis Australia, Dean Zabriezach was a Director at Vic Roads whilst Joe Cahill WAS transport and Tom O’Toole WAS construction. Our influence was far reaching.
Paul Lacava provided legal counsel to the club and served as our Club Delegate to the VAFA. When Paul was sworn in as a County Court Judge, the Chairman of the Victorian Bar Council made mention of his involvement at North. He said “It’s not only your daughters who can pull the wool over your eyes. One pre-season, you noticed a large scar on the back of the leg of one of the North Old Boys players (who is nick-named – Jex – because of his tight curly ‘afro’ hairstyle). Anyway, you enquired about the scar. The response from Jex was that he had had a hamstring transplant over the summer. It will warm the hearts of the Victorian legal system that you accepted without question that hamstring transplants were possible”. Jex was either very convincing or Paul was very gullible.
We had great stability within the Club with quality people. Our Presidents included Damian Maguire 1980-1982, Stephen Maule 1983-1985 and Stephen Hibbert 1986-1987 who amazingly combined his Presidency with his Pharmacy whilst still playing A Grade footy. Tony Duggan then led the club for the next six seasons.
Two young committee members baited our frugal Treasurer Norm Hedley by allowing him to overhear their conversation proposing an overseas holiday with proceeds from the Bingo fund. Honest Norm was aghast and requested an investigation at the committee meeting before President Hibbert advised him of the scam.
The Club was warm and welcoming as was evident with the numerous country boys that joined our ranks including Jim Marchbank, John Dore, Marcus Boyd, Paul ‘Jack’ Daniel and many others. There was also a constant source of recruits from rival clubs as they observed the spirit and unity at North. We were never exclusive. We even made Marty ‘Mad Dog’ Shembrey and David ‘Dr How Long’ Burgin welcome.
Many fine women assisted throughout the 1980’s. Marg O’Toole, Pat Leigh, Julie Cahill, Judy Fogarty and Jackie Zabrieszach were tireless contributors and Sheila Maguire, Ivy Fogarty, Ness Lynch and Annabelle Scanlon were always in attendance to cheer on their beloved purple and white. Denis and Rita Griffin, Kevin and Kath Hibbert, Kevin and Ann Weir, George and Mary Moloney, Joe and Julie Cahill, Jim and Marg Considine, were also loyal supporters.
Throughout the mid 1980’s the Phantom was a major influence. Most enjoyed his wit and sarcasm. He unearthed all the happenings and provided a social commentary on many exploits. Often he managed to abuse or offend some including Coach Scanlon to the amusement of the players. He feared no one and was lucky the law of defamation didn’t apply. The sole reason players arrived early for training on Tuesdays was to read the Phantom’s message. I was fortunate to never receive his wrath.
In 1981, in an extremely rare feat, all four North teams played in Grand Finals. Our Seniors somehow lost the Grand Final to Old Xaverians by 18 points after defeating them in the Second Semi by a massive 98 points. Senior Coach Terry Scanlon and the whole Club were determined to avenge this loss. Whilst our Reserves lost to De La Salle in the Grand Final, it was both pleasing and promising that our U19 and Club 18 teams both won premierships that season.
The following season the best team I have witnessed at NOBS won the Senior A Grade Premiership conclusively. They were an extremely talented team and demolished teams with an average winning margin over the last ten games of more than ten goals. Surprisingly the team lost the Second Semi to De La by 26 points, then rebounded in the Prelim to defeat Marcellin by 70 points and then triumphed in the Grand Final over De La Salle by 58 points. When Coach Terry Scanlon and Captain Mauro Borcich proudly accepted the Premiership Cup to the delight of the supporters, who had been rejoicing since mid way through the third quarter, the celebrations commenced and continued for weeks.
Our Reserves team featured in three consecutive grand finals 1981, 1982 & 1983 and achieved victory by defeating De La Salle in 1983 to win the Premiership for our deserved coach Matt Purcell.
Tony O’Donnell’s father in law Max was a great supporter of the Reserves and would donate a dozen bottles to the best players. Numerous times the younger members of the team were nominated as better players to receive a few bottles but the thirst of some older, smarter players such as Kanga, Pearly, Jonge and captain O’Toole meant they didn’t take them home.
After wins in the first two rounds in 1984 our Senior team suffered 4 consecutive losses. A committee meeting was scheduled to discuss the plight of our coach John Russell. As we prepared ourselves for the debate, John McGrath sat down, lifted his briefcase onto the table and produced a Wiltshire stay sharp knife! Needless to say the coach was terminated and Terry Scanlon returned.
Jim Durnan was a ferocious player at Melbourne and upon retirement NOBS gave him his opportunity to coach in 1985. I recall after being overrun by Old Scotch at Elsternwick on an unseasonly hot afternoon in early April, Jim unleashed on the players. Everyone copped his fury with players continuing to wear their mouthguards as balls and water bottles were thrown within the confines of the changerooms.
In 1986 the club appointed Mark Hanneberry as Senior Coach who continued in the role for four years. Hanna’s was a fitness fanatic. One preseason session was almost 40C and he made us run to the Maribyrnong River in Moonee Ponds a distance of about 7 kms. We were then instructed to swim across the river and then ‘run’ in the water which stirred up the scum and stench from the bottom of the river and entertained the rats loitering near the main drain. We then completed numerous strides in the adjoining park before completing the lengthy run back to Brens. All this without a sip of water! Not surprisingly several players were ill for our practice match that weekend.
As a result of this hard work we were a formidable outfit and accounted for Collegians in the Second Semi by 38 points. Unfortunately Collegians won the Grand Final kicking a remarkable 21 goals 6 behinds to our 11 goals 15 behinds. Practising set plays from a kick out from a behind proved inoperative as Collegians managed to kick 12 goals straight in the first half.
On field memories included Geoff Dillon kicking monstrous long goals, John Jordan still taking spekkies in his mid ’30s, Mauro Borcich being unstoppable, Steve Weir’s ferocious attack on the ball, Paul Considine being unpassable at CHB, Gus Carroll picking up a loose ball in one hand, Mark Malone splitting packs, Steve O’Rourke who couldn’t run due to knee injuries winning countless possessions and Jerome Griffin always beating the opposition full forward. The best goal scored at Brens, featured Peter Weir running and bouncing all the way from the back pocket to kick a brilliant goal. This was especially ironic as his nickname was Circles. Bobby Skinner was our trainer and he was a masochist with his iodine on open wounds and strong massage on corkies that were excruciating. Honest Harry Leigh was our permanent boundary umpire for decades. We had great rivalry with De La and Ormond but my favourite moment at Brens was defeating our greatest foe Old Xaverians. The wife of their Coach caused a scene in the rooms after the game which made the win even sweeter.
My biggest regret in over 30 years of Amateur football was to accept an invitation from Paul Considine to attend a St Bernard’s football club fundraiser after VAFA demoted them following an investigation for offering a prized recruit money. I left the event early and have never forgiven Conno.
My three sons have since attended school at St Bernard’s and played junior footy for the SBOCAFC. In 2010, I was U16 assistant coach. I wore my purple socks at training and after each win I joined the huddle for the club song but never sang the words – not that they won very often!
We worked hard, played hard and achieved considerable success.
Many enduring friendships were forged throughout this decade and several relationships blossomed as players’ married teammate’s sisters and former players daughters.
It was the place to be both on and off the field.
A club is only as good as its people and the people at North Old Boys throughout the 1980’s were all A grade.
PROUD PASSIONATE AND PURPLE