by Peter Clark
In Part I of the Walbundrie Sports Ground story we looked at the iconic features of the show ground/sports ground and its treasured place in the Walbundrie and the Hume Football Netball League communities.
The theme of Part II is memorable matches of football played at Walbundrie. We also glance at the historical context surrounding one of those unforgettable matches.
More than 200 finals games and about 1000 home and away games have been played at the Walbundrie Sports Ground over the past 110 years. It should be no surprise that some of the most memorable football matches in Hume League history have been witnessed at the ‘Riverina cross roads’ venue.
What are the elements that make some football matches memorable, in fact, so clear in the minds of football followers that incidents from matches played 40 or 50 years ago can be recalled in an instant? They can be: inspirational and brilliant performances by players; meetings of traditional rivals in grand finals; hotly contested local derbies; remarkable comebacks; heart-stopping moments in close contests; premiership-winning goals (and points); match-deciding umpiring decisions; knock-out blows and all-in-brawls, and often, a combination of several of those incidents.
Let’s start with one the most remarkable comebacks in Hume League history.
Trailing by seven goals at three quarter time in the 1978 HFL grand final did not faze the Walbundrie Tigers, well known for their gregarious nature. Many Walla supporters, believing victory was in the bag, left the ground early. Walbundrie stormed home in the final term to snatch the flag from fierce close-town rivals Walla. The Border Mail (16/9/78) headline told the story: “TIGERS DUMP WALLA WITH A 7 GOAL BLITZ’.
In 1973 Walla played minor premiers Burrumbuttock in the grand final. The two sides had met in the second semi-final two weeks earlier in a remarkable match dominated by a strong wind, which blew for the entire game. Walla won the toss and with that the match, scoring six goals in the first quarter while Burrumbuttock failed to register a score. For the rest of the game scoring seesawed under the effect of the wind. Halted by the gale in the last quarter, Walla had done enough with their downwind opportunities to win their way through to the grand final. Burrumbuttock regrouped and won the preliminary final against Rand, setting the stage for another crack at Walla.
The grand final was played in more benign weather conditions and produced a classic country football premiership-decider. Scores were close all afternoon and at the 27 minute mark of the last quarter were locked at 67 all. The crowd went wild with excitement at that point and a draw seemed certain. With time running out, Walla wingman Graham Scholz broke clear sending his team into attack where a match-winning point was scored by former coach Bruce Diffey, who was playing his 252nd game. The final scores read: Walla 9.14 (68) to Burrumbuttock 10.7 (67). It was also a great day in the long career of 37 year-old Walla ruckman and club president Merv Wegener. He was playing his 280th game for the Grasshoppers. It was another record Hume League ‘gate’ at Walbundrie and the second year that all finals were played at the crossroads location.
The 1999 HFL grand final was just as close when Lockhart, undefeated all season, met Osborne at Walbundrie. The Cats timed their run perfectly and upstaged the raging favourite Demons to take out their sixth HFL premiership in eight seasons. The question of whether Lockhart had printed premiership t-shirts in expectation of victory remains unanswered, but myth or fact it has added to the intense rivalry between the clubs. That day a 15 year-old local lad named Adam Schneider kicked three goals, including two in the last quarter. Six sets of brothers (Hosie, Clarke, O’Connell, Gooden, Schneider and Gleeson brothers) represented Osborne in their massive boil-over win.
In 1976 when the “Protestants” (Brocklesby) played the “Germans” (Walla) in a game full of feeling, Walla full forward Garry Mickan dealt the KO premiership punch by goaling from 45 out on a 45 degree angle after a contentious mark. But a Brock player, incensed with Mickan’s in-your-face self congratulation, had other ideas of how things should finish – right on the spot he ‘jobbed’ Walla’s hero in his own version of a knockout blow.
Rivalries persist regardless of the importance of matches. And the outcome of some matches between rivals can be as vital as grand finals to the victors and the vanquished. Such was the case at Walbundrie late in the 1997 season when Walbundrie and Burrumbuttock were engaged in a battle to avoid the wooden spoon. Adding to the feeling, and ultimately the irony, was the fact that a former Burrumbuttock player, Paul Azzi “out of the blue”, was wearing the Tiger’s colours that year. With scores deadlocked who should kick a goal on the siren to sink Burrumbuttock, breaking their hearts and sending them to the bottom of the ladder? Azzi of course, and for Walbundrie it was like a grand final win.
We end by going all the way back to the first decade (1930’s) of the Hume League when 1937 Walbundrie premiership captain Tom Fagan performed a remarkable feat. With only seconds left on the clock in a match against Walla, Fagan’s cousin Dick took a mark and kicked a short pass to him. Sizing up the situation, Fagan casually prepared a mound and from a long way out proceeded to place kick the ball through for a match winning goal right on the final bell.
Tom Fagan went off to the Second World War and became a prisoner of war on the Burma-Thailand Railway. He survived his experiences and returned to his beloved Riverina district after the war. It is fitting that 38 Silky Oak trees were planted around the showgrounds in memory of the district men and women who enlisted for the Second World War. There were also five plane trees planted at the showgrounds (near the old School) as a memorial to the Five Walbundrie men who lost their lives in the First World War. An interpretation board has recently been erected at the site to help perpetuate the remembrance.
Walbundrie football stalwart Rick Clancy and local historian Leo Coyle provided some of the historical information and recounted several football incidents for the Walbundrie Sports Ground stories.