Tom Goss’s Football Stories – Part II, Narrandera Sportsground Field of Dreams

In late 1964, Dad received the exciting news that he had been appointed the Shire Clerk of Narrandera, another central Riverina town, but one considerably closer to ‘civilization’  For someone by now caught irrevocably in football’s irresistible enchantments, this was a giant step closer to heaven. Narrandera was the geographical centre of Riverina football and its home ground was like a country MCG.

When we arrived the South West was one the most powerful country leagues in the nation. The year before it had won the prestigious VCFL Caltex Country Championship. That a league, situated in NSW territory fought bitterly over by three codes, Aussie Rules, Rugby League and Rugby Union, was still able to overcome such footballing powerhouses as the Ovens and Murray, Hampden and Goulburn Valley leagues was remarkable, akin to Papua New Guinea winning Soccer’s World Cup.

In the late fifties and early sixties every team had great local footballers in its ranks and these were bolstered immeasurably by former VFL champions still in their prime such as ex South Melbourne captain, Ian Gillett (Coolamon), one time leading VFL goal-kicker Tom Carroll (Ganmain) and ex Brownlow medalist, Peter Box (Grong Grong and Narrandera). Amazingly, these great players could earn more money playing for obscure little towns than they could in the fabled VFL in the late fifties and early sixties.

By 1962, Peter Box was playing for the Narrandera Imperials. Box was an enigmatic loner, reluctant, brooding and often non communicative, but the finest country footballer I’ve ever laid eyes on. His barrel chested physique, a combination of genetics and hard physical labor wouldn’t be out of place alongside today’s gym sculptured Behemoths and his strength and toughness, allied with sublime skill made him the complete footballer.

I have one enduring memory of Peter Box. After he retired from football he took up golf. One afternoon, my brother Mike and I had finished our round and were waiting on the edge of the first fairway, for a lone player to hit down. We were about seventy meters away. I was around 14

Peter Box, 1956 Brownlow Medalist
and Narrandera FC capt coach 1962-64

and Mike 11. The player swung heftily, topped the ball and sent it hurtling along the ground in our direction. It took a couple of bounces and before we could move crashed into Mike’s thigh. The player raced in our direction terribly concerned and upset. I immediately recognised my footballing hero. Mike was fine apart from a large welt which later blossomed into a huge purple bruise, and the incident was quickly forgotten. Three days later Dad arrived home with a small, blue jewellery case in which lay a tiny, somewhat nondescript medal. Peter had dropped into Dad’s office, told him how upset he was and offered to lend us his 1956 Brownlow as a method of contrition. If Dad had handed us the crown jewels I couldn’t have been more thrilled. I have never forgotten Peter’s kindness.

The timing of our arrival in Narrandera was as sweet as an Adam Gilchrist cover drive. The Imperials were about to enter a golden period of success, winning premierships in 1966, 67, 72 and 74. The town was producing a seemingly endless supply of outstanding local players, Steve Margosis, Terry O’Neill, Gubba Powell, Murray Nielsen and the beautifully named Victor Hugo among countless others. When these were augmented by astute recruiting; Geoff Sharp, Warren Roper and the magnificent Jeff Hempell success seemed as natural as night following day.

The 1974 Grand Final was perhaps the most dramatic in South West league history. Narrandera was pitted against a powerful Coolamon team shooting for back to back flags. At the thirty-one-minute mark at the final quarter Coolamon kicked a goal which put it eighteen points in front and seemingly home and hosed. The Imperials then staged an incredible barnstorming finish. Two goals in succession narrowed the margin to one straight kick. With less than a minute remaining, Coolamon’s full back Dick Pieper rushed a behind. The resultant kick out landed in the arms of a supremely talented seventeen-year-old named Tony Turner, who calmly dodged an opponent to thread through the winning goal with the last kick of the season. Snatching an improbable victory when defeat appears certain is one of the most thrilling aspects of any sport, and the more important the game the greater the thrill.

It was a glorious finish to Narrandera’s finest ever season, winning both the reserves and under nineteens, as well as every junior grade contested in that unforgettable year.

In the delirium of victory, I was not to know that, many years later, I would be writing about the same match from a completely different perspective whilst I was compiling the History of the Coolamon Hoppers. There were many in Coolamon who muttered whispers of conspiracies and time keeping skullduggery around the extraordinary length of that fateful last quarter.

Carrolls and Ganmain are Linked like Kellogs and Cornflakes

     Dennis Carroll

Former Sydney Swans captain and Team of the Century member Dennis Carroll was selected on a half-back flank in the NSW Greatest Team.

He was one of four Carrolls on the NSW Greatest List who played VFL/AFL.

His father Laurie, better known as Dooley, played eleven games at St Kilda from 1948-49.

His uncle Tom, who was nicknamed “Turkey Tom” by the late Lou Richards on account of running a rafter of turkeys on the family farm, won a Coleman medal playing for Carlton in 1961.

   Wayne “Christmas’               Carroll

His cousin, Wayne, aka “Christmas”, played at South Melbourne/Sydney Swans from 1980-85 playing 56 games and kicking 57 goals. He won the VFL Mark of the Year award in 1984.

The Carrolls originally hail from Ganmain situated between Wagga and Narrandera in the Riverina where members of the family have farmed since “Grandpa” Larry Carroll and his wife and nine kids took up land selection in the district in the early 1900s.

The Carrolls all came together on the one day when they took on the Rest of Ganmain to raise funds for the swimming pool at the village of Ganmain on 6 October 1968.

The senior team consisted of twenty Carrolls plus an emergency. “Dooley” and Tom were selected together in the first ruck. Their brothers Joe, Bill, Tony, Brian (aka Mickey) and Kevin were also in the team.

The coach was the Catholic Bishop of Wagga Francis Carroll, known as “Father Frank”, who at 38 years of age was then the youngest bishop in Australia. He was named on the half-forward flank but only played a cameo role in the game.

In the schoolboys team were Dennis and his brothers Chris, Stephen, Colin and Scott, along with many cousins which included Wayne and Greg!

“It was my first game of football. I was so excited to play. I was seven years of age at the time”, Dennis recalled. “I couldn’t believe I had so many uncles and cousins”.

Like all the Carrolls, Dennis has had various nicknames bestowed upon him, including “Boofy”, “DC” and “Dan”, and at one stage “Washington” but the one that has stuck is DC.

“DC” went to South Melbourne under zoning in 1981 and went on to play 219 games and kick 117 goals for the Bloods. He started as a winger but later developed into a fine defender. Dennis was the Swans captain from 1986-92 when he retired. He later coached the Reserves to a grand final in 1995 only to be beaten by North Melbourne under Rodney Eade.

Dennis played in the original NSW State of Origin team at the Bicentennial carnival in Adelaide in 1988 when he was vice-captain to Terry Daniher. He also played three games for Victoria between 1984-86.

He is now employed as Head of People Development at the Sydney Swans Football Club.

  Dooley Carroll

His father, Laurie, an absolute champion, played in seven premierships for Ganmain (1946, 1947, 1950, 1951, 1953, 1956 and 1957). He was captain-coach of the victorious 1951 team that had an epic win over Whitton by five points with Keith “Swampy” Gumbleton (father of North Melbourne premiership defender Frank Gumbleton) kicking the winning goal in the dying moments of the game.

“Dooley” was regarded as one of, if not the best, high mark in the South West League” (Wagga Daily Advertiser, 8 November, 1958).

In his last season at Ganmain in 1957 “Dooley” was equal best and fairest with captain-coach Mick Grambeau, the hardman ruckman who had come from North Melbourne in 1956. Eight of the players in that premiership team were Carrolls.

Grambeau was the highest paid player in Australia at the time on a package of £65 per week that included a job, match payments, a house, and a milking cow. All of Ganmain turned out for a street parade on a half-day holiday on his arrival in the town followed by a dance in the local hall. (Sun-News Pictorial, 26 March 1956).    

In 1958 “Dooley” went to coach Collingullie in the Central Riverina league for three seasons. Later, he was chairman of selectors at the Lockhart footy club for many years.

He was voted best player for NSW at the 1950 ANFC Carnival in Brisbane.

    ‘Turkey’           Tom          Carroll

“Turkey Tom” Carroll first made a strong impression as a forward in Ganmain’s 1956 and 1957 premiership teams. He then booted 103 goals in 1960 to head the league goal-kicking list and won the club best and fairest for the second successive season.

He was eagerly sought by VFL clubs Essendon and Footscray before electing to go to Carlton in 1961. He kicked 5 goals on debut against champion St Kilda and then-Victorian full-back Verdun Howell who was retrospectively awarded a Brownlow medal for the 1959 season.

Tom kicked 54 goals for the season to top the VFL goalkicking list. He also played in Carlton’s grand   final team in 1962. He was Carlton’s leading goal-kicker in each of his three seasons at the Blues. But th lure of home was too strong and he returned to Ganmain as captain-coach in 1964.

Upon his return, he led the Maroons to a premiership win over Griffith by two points. His late goal, his 102nd goal for the season, proved to be the winning goal. He was voted best-on-the-ground.

Tom also played in the famous South West league representative team that won the Victorian country championship in the televised final against the Hampden league at Narrandera. The first-ever win by a NSW-based league.

Ganmain repeated the feat the next season with a convincing 38 point victory over Griffith. Tom again topped the league goal-kicking with 90 goals. He coached the club again in 1966 but they were eliminated in the preliminary final by eventual premier Narrandera.

After two more seasons as a player with Ganmain, Tom finished his playing career as captain-coach of neighbouring club, Grong Grong Matong in 1968-69.

Dennis recalls spending most of his school-holidays on the farm with uncle Tom during this period. “He was a big influence on me. He taught me to kick properly, and to kick on my left foot. I remember going to games at Matong in his new royal blue Ford Falcon GTHO”.

Wayne “Christmas” Carroll started playing seniors with Ganmain in 1976 under legendary Riverina coach the late Greg Leech and played a key role in winning the club’s last-ever premiership as a stand-alone club in the South West DFL.

He transferred to Queanbeyan in the ACT in 1977 and played in their premiership. He re-joined brother, “Jock” (Greg), at Mangoplah-Cookardinia United in 1978 then playing in the Farrer league, then went to South in 1980 after playing senior games on permit in 1979.

Upon returning to the Riverina in 1986, “Christmas” took over as captain-coach of Turvey Park in Wagga and led the Bulldogs to four premierships in a row, 1987-1990.

“Christmas” represented NSW in 1979 under Alan Jeans and then again from 1986 to 1990.