Part III: Tom Goss’s Football Memories

by Tom Goss

Coolamon Rovers – ‘Hoppers’ Success

In 1978 I received news of my first permanent posting as a teacher after finishing my teacher training at UNSW. I had been appointed to Coolamon Central school where I was to spend the remainder of my teaching career.

Coolamon is a small farming town about 40kms south west of Wagga and has always been a staunch Australian Football town. I quickly became enamoured with the Coolamon Rovers Football Club. Over the subsequent years I have served, at various times, as player, selector, committee man, Vice President, publicity officer, game day scribe and supporter.

Once again my timing was unerring. Between 1979 and 1985, the club played in six grand finals for one win, three losses and two draws. In 1982, the first year of the newly formed Riverina Football League (RFL), combining the best of the South West and Farrer leagues the ‘Hoppers played East Wagga in the Grand final only to lose by a heart breaking five points. Captain Coach Garry Buchanan not only suffered the agony of leading a losing team but had to endure the indignity of watching his direct opponent, Mark Hull, accept the man of the match award.

In 83, Garry Buchanan was replaced by Russell Campbell as captain-coach. The decider was a replay of the previous year. “Bucky” had closely analysed his poor performance and decided he hadn’t been fit enough. Accordingly, throughout that cold winter, on non training days, he set off on punishing early morning runs to ensure, if the chance came again, he would not be found wanting. I had retired from football the previous year but still wished to maintain fitness for my other great sporing love, cricket, and I was Bucky’s running partner throughout that frosty winter.

The grand final was a classic. After 100 minutes of brilliant football from both sides the scores were locked together 119 all. That night in the clubrooms where a celebration, or a wake had been planned, and everyone was as deflated as a security captured beach ball; Bucky went around to every player, lifting their spirits and impressing on them that the flag was still there to be won.

The replay was, if possible, even better. With a minute remaining in the third quarter the teams still couldn’t be separated. Then big burly Albert Suidgeest snapped a goal from a kick-in to put the ‘Hoppers six points in front at the final break. The last quarter was as magical as a conjurer’s convention from Coolamon’s point of view and goals rained down like manna from heaven. The award for best player in the grand final was adjudged over the two games. The unanimous winner, Garry Buchanan.

Drawn grands finals are rare but It’s rarer than stone Gargoyle turds for the same team play in another within two years. Incredibly, in 1985 Coolamon was involved in yet another grand final tie, this time against Wagga Tigers.

Earlier that year the team was in disarray. The coach that season was local product, Neil Pleming. Only slight in stature, affable and good humoured off the field Neil was a simmering volcano on it. He attacked the contest ferociously, had the ball handling skills of a horse Gelder (and collected more kicks) his tackles crunched like the grip of an adult anaconda and he could deliver a shirt front to flatten a mature bull. He demanded nothing less from his team mates.  Unfortunately, some were just not physically capable of his style of play.

Things came to a head early in the season following a monumental flogging from old rivals Ganmain by more than 150 points. To be beaten by Ganmain anytime is a dagger in the heart for any Coolamon supporter but a monumental thrashing is unthinkable. Neil’s three quarter time speech was a five word masterpiece of brevity, conciseness and truncated emotion. ‘You can all get fucked.’ he yelled before storming off, smoke steaming from the ears and nose, to await the last quarter bounce.

I was Neil’s selector that year and the club seemed headed straight for a cliff. At that stage the chances of Coolamon playing off for the flag were on a par with Julia Gillard delivering Alan Jones’ eulogy.

From that early season wreck, the team regrouped. An entire club meeting cleared the air somewhat. Plem tempered his fire and brimstone methods a little but his coaching style, pure personal example, the foundation stone  of which was an unrelenting attack on the ball quickly converted the players. A revitalised, united Coolamon was able to reverse that humiliating loss to Ganmain on its own patch of turf in the preliminary final.

The Grand final was another Herculean clash. Both teams ran themselves to exhaustion but couldn’t be separated at the final siren. Astonishingly, at the 26 minute mark of the last quarter in the replay the scores were still locked together. One team had to break and it was the battle fatigued, injury riddled ‘Hoppers, facing a team that was fresher and equally determined which couldn’t raise one last mighty effort. Apparently the Wagga players on their lap of honour, kept glancing behind, haunted by the prospect that Coolamon was still coming.

 “Poddy” Slade – ‘Wonder’ Footballer Who Beat the Mail Train

Football History Society Vice President, Doctor Rod Gillett, takes us back to one of the champions of the game in the Riverina Area of New South Wales:

Coolamon’s greatest-ever player Alonza “Poddy” Slade, was rated a “wonder” player because of his “skills and sheer brilliance” according to contemporary media reports.

The most astounding story in relation to Poddy Slade is when he beat the South West Mail train from Coolamon to Matong, almost thirty kilometres, riding a bicycle!

Football teams in the South West league in the 1920s would travel by train to games along the south-west rail line from Junee to Griffith, alternating venues based on the fixtures. All the clubs except Leeton in this period were based on the rail-line that gave the league its name.

One particular Saturday, Coolamon were playing at Whitton, and Poddy missed catching the train by a few minutes due to being delayed at work; undeterred he went after the train on his bike, a cumbersome old Malvern Star, and furiously pedalled over the unpaved road to Ganmain, only to see the train depart the station just as he rounded the corner. He redoubled his efforts and caught the train in Matong. That afternoon he was Coolamon’s best player!

Poddy Slade played his first game for Coolamon in 1908 at the age of 14. He subsequently played until 1934.

The photograph(above) of Poddy Slade in his football prime shows a superbly muscled, powerful frame with a face set in steely determination. He worked for the local granary on tasks that required physical strength such as lumping bags of wheat.

In an interview I did with him in 1981 he told me that he also worked at his fitness by jogging at night along the then bumpy Coolamon-Marrar road.

Poddy was the star player in Coolamon’s 1920 and 1922 premiership teams. The premiership in 1920 was Coolamon’s first premiership; the club was formed in 1894.

Coolamon defeated Naranderra at Coolamon by thirteen points. A crowd estimated at over 3000 attended the match and the gate takings were a record £78. A half-day holiday was declared in the town for the game.

Narrandera had challenged for the premiership after being declared the winner of the semi-final against Marrar at Grong Grong. This followed the controversial “football stabbing” incident by an unknown Marrar player.

Best player for Coolamon was Poddy Slade – “ … with his high marks and general play was always in the limelight” (Coolamon-Farmers’ Review, 24 September, 1920).

The following season Coolamon lost to Junee in the grand final at Naranderra by 16 points. A special train conveyed over 1200 people to Naranderra from Junee for the grand final halting at all stops along the line.

Coolamon secured their second premiership in three years when they took out the 1922 pennant by beating Narrandera at Coolamon. Poddy Slade was again named the best player.

The highlight of his extensive football career was leading a combined South West team against VFL powerhouse Collingwood at Narrandera in 1924.

The Magpies were led by Charlie Tyson and included Charlie Dibbs, Len Murphy, Joe Poulter and the Coventry brothers, Syd and Gordon. Known as “The Machine” Collinwood would win four premierships in a row, 1927-1930.

The Narrandera Argus (18 July 1924) reported that “the SWDFL made a grand showing against such formidable opponents”. Collingwood won 13-8 (86) to South West 10-15 (75).

According to the match report, “Slade was one of the few to match these leaping wonders” and “used his height and weight judiciously”. He was named in the best players and kicked two goals.

Poddy played for Coolamon until 1934 when his last game was the final game for the season against fierce local rivals Ganmain. Ganmain won 7-21 (63) to 5-9 (39). Poddy kicked three goals.

“The Coolamon team is fortunate in having such a talented player as A. (Poddy) Slade…. He always plays the game as it should be played … he has set an example that footballers should strive to follow. The football and goals have always been his object, and whenever he beats an opponent, he beats him fairly”.    (Narrandera Argus 2 August 1929)

As to how Alonza Slade got his nickname the answer was given to me  by Mrs Slade at my interview with Poddy in 1981, his wife told me, “When his mother bought him home a relative exclaimed “My isn’t he a little poddy” and the name stuck.







Trouble at Coolamon in 1957

<center>Jim Conway“Keenly contested matches and a brawl were the order of the day for the followers of the Australian Game of Football played in the South West District FL (NSW), on Sunday 9 June 1957.

The Coolamon v Whitton game was played at Kindra Park, Coolamon was hard and fast but not as tough as made out. The only trouble sited was an incident in the third quarter  when Coolamon’s rover, Jacko Reid and Whitton highly excitable ruckman, Rusty Kelly had a bit of a tiff in the middle of the ground.  Both players ended up on the wing throwing punches at each other.  After that Reid backed up onto the concrete bicycle track which surrounds the ground and became level with the much larger man, Kelly and gave him a fair pounding.  The umpire stopped the fight and the game carried on.

The match came to a conclusion with Jim Conway’s (pictured) Coolamon men 39 points ahead.  12-26 (98) to 10-9 (69). At this point Rusty Kelly took off in pursuit of Jack Reid who ran very fast towards the dressing shed.  “Get him Boxy”. Kelly shouted.  Bill Gill Box duly obliged and tripped the Coolamon rover over, enabling Kelly to nearly catch him.  The Coolamon crowd then came off the boundary line, many in an angry mood and from there the ruckus started.  Players, trainers and spectators from both clubs then proceeded to pound each other in the middle of the ground.

The local sergeant of police came onto the ground and he took a pounding as well!

After about 15 minutes the umpire pulled up the fight.  Whitton bus driver, Mr Boxer Lloyd then drove his bus up to the gate and the footballers left the ground, not showering or changing and got straight onto the bus then onwards to Whitton.  The VFL umpire said later that it was all very exciting while it lasted.”

Ref. History of the South West District Football League 1913-1981 p.283, author Ged Guthrie.