Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
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Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature
Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature Home : People Phil Cleary's view on Australian politics, people, vfl and afl football, music, history and literature

 

 

 

A SNAPSHOT FROM THE NORTH

Only three Coburg players, Dave Starbuck (219), myself (205) and Vin Taranto (203) have played more than 200 games at Coburg. Despite not being the greatest kick I managed to wobble through 317 goals between 1975 and 1987.

Winning the 1979 and losing the 1980 grand final were truly memorable days. So too was losing the 1986 grand final as captain coach.

 

In the book Cleary Independent I described it this way:

On September 21st 1986, Umpire Ryan packed his bags and headed for the Junction Oval where arch-enemy Williamstown, led by playing coach, Terry Wheeler, and Coburg were about to meet in what would become one of the VFA's most controversial Grand Finals. We'd won 15 home-and-away games including 2 against the Seagulls and were the Premiership favourite, but Williamstown was a VFA darling.

Eight minutes into the third quarter with 3 points in the game I dipped the shoulder into 20-year-old Williamstown full back Tony Pastore on the boundary line in front of the grandstand. Pastore had been Williamstown's best player and I hoped to either hurt him or failing that distract him. Unfortunately not all the actors followed the script. After I'd engaged in a harmless round of cheek-to-cheek with Williamstown's Rick Slevison, Umpire Ryan decided upon a starring role. As he drew a notebook from his top pocket and declared he was reporting me, paroxysms of ecstasy and hatred collided on the terrace.

"What for?" I asked.
"Unduly rough play," he replied as I thrust my open hand across the motorised mouth of Terry Wheeler.
"Order him off then, order him off," Wheeler insisted, aware that I was gone for.
"Fuck off, squirrel gripper," I retorted.
Although only a short distance away, Ryan's more senior partner, umpire Graham Marcy, looked on with bemusement.

"And Cleary's been reported. Sent off, has he? He's been sent off. Phil Cleary!" spluttered an excited Channel 10 commentator, Eddie McGuire.

"What a sensational send-off. Personally I don't think there was much there," remarked the almost disinterested, special comments man, Gary Brice.
"What happened then, Phil?" enquired Channel 10`s omniscient, roving commentator, Tony Banks.
"Nothing," I growled before regaining my composure alongside the coach's box and adding, "nothing happened out there."
"He's not very well actually at the moment," a smiling, mischievous Banks explained to half a million television viewers. For the silver voiced, ring master and anchor-man Phil Gibbs this was manna from heaven.

As Williamstown piled on the goals, 6 of them in 15 minutes, I watched in disbelief as a season's work disappeared. Jeff Ryan, man in white, had succumbed to the pressure and panicked with telling consequences. As Williamstown surged to an unbeatable lead of 45 points at three quarter time, Coburg President Alan Tripp counted the losses. A well known SP bookmaker with a string of tribunal appearances, Tripp, as I was to discover at the wake, when he sullenly demanded to know what had happened, had bet heavily on the game.

At the Tribunal, Ryan meekly announced that he'd reported me for kneeing Rik Slevison to the groin. "You must be joking," I thought. Everything had now fallen into place. In the tranquillity of the umpires room after the match Ryan must surely have realised he'd made a monumental error. On the report sheet he was about to pencil a charge which TV evidence would reduce to absurdity.
"Kneeing to the balls? Look it just didn't happen! There was no contact of that kind," I told the Chairman as he peered at the TV screen.
"Well, can't see anything there," he mused, smiling and scratching his head. "Not guilty."

The VFA subsequently modified the order-off rule but it was all too late. Although we trailed by 45 points we were to lose by a mere 13 points. No matter what anyone else says, without Umpire Jeff Ryan that Premiership would have been ours. At the Grand Final night wake a boundary umpire shed some light on the actions of Umpire Ryan. "Jim Chapman [Umpires' Adviser] told Marcy and Ryan to treat any misdemeanours by Terry Wheeler or yourself seriously in order that the game didn't get out of hand," he explained. Knowing Jim Chapman as I did, I was not surprised.

Coaching Coburg to consecutive premierhsips, in 1988 and 1989 our first consecutive premierships since 1926/27/28 was a dream.

In Cleary Independent I described the events of that time as follows:

What by March 19th had become a melodrama would have been a non-event if I'd accepted the coaching position at Sandringham. After a couple of months of procrastination I finally said no to the job. Had the answer been yes, I'd never have been the Independent Member for Wills, no-one would have heard of Ian Sykes, and on the 2nd last Saturday in September as coach of Sandringham I'd have held up the 1992 VFA premiership cup at Princes Park.

The problem was I couldn't contemplate replacing the gritty ordinariness of the Coburg Football Club with the sleepy opulence of Sandringham. I wanted to say yes. I'd gone down to Sandringham one Sunday morning in November to deliver my decision to the Committee. As I passed Luna Park and the St Kilda Marina I had the feeling I was going to say yes. I'd carefully stacked the arguments up against each other. That's it, do it. You could do with the change. And anyway, there'll be no problem with money. You'll get paid, and not only that, you'll have a side capable of winning the Premiership. I was convinced.
"So what's the decision?"
"Look," I said. "I just can't leave Coburg." I tried to find the words to say that I was accepting the job but it was as if someone else had control of my vocal chords.
"Christ, you're a disappointment," I thought as Sandringham President Ian Blake and a Committee man drove off in an open MG sport scar to advise St Kilda icon Trevor Barker he had the job. By the end of April 1996 both Blake and Barker were dead. Blake was to die of a heart attack aged 50 and Barker of cancer aged just 39.

Among my coaches at Coburg were – John Dugdale (former Kangaroo champion), Colin Kinnear (Carlton football manager), John Nicholls and Harold Martin (VFA legend).

MORE TO COME

 

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