Kyabram Free Press
Rapt with progress so far
Two photographs hanging on the back wall of the public bar at the Tongala Hotel have been a first port of call for Tongala football recruits for almost four decades.
They are pictures of the Des Campbell-coached Goulburn Valley league premiership sides of 1983-84. And they are the last premiership success the club has enjoyed.
The legendary portraits, with a proud Campbell front and centre, are also a magnet for those who fondly recall what was the Blues’ most glorious in their history.
Being 37 years since the last grand final win there is much excitement surrounding the club’s unbeaten Murray league season.
There is a synergy to the tenures of current coach Jordan Souter and Campbell. They share a similar battle cry when in full swing for the Blues, Souter known widely as the ‘‘Cat’’ and Campbell, now 71 and a grandfather of eight, was revered throughout Goulburn Valley ranks as the ‘‘Panther’’.
He has missed only two of the club’s games this year and is well placed to speak on the team’s status in the Murray league. And he is predicting a Tongala-cobram grand final.
“If that’s the way it turns out I’ll be doing my best to get as many of the 1980s players to the granny as I can,’’ he said.
Campbell said he had attended a few Thursday night training sessions and the feeling of the club reminded him of the club’s glory years.
“Their recruiting has been spot on. Every player they’ve got is not only a good player, but a good person,” he said. “There were hundreds of people at training, it was unbelievable.
“I thought ‘what a great feel the club has’. It looked similar to our time and hopefully they can get the rewards that we did.”
Campbell said the 2019 version of the senior side did extremely well to make the grand final when it, in his opinion, was not in the top two sides. “There was a lot of pride in the way they went about it. It was a good basis for this year.”
Campbell said he would be as happy as anyone if the Blues could break the drought.
He did, however, stand his ground on the team he led to the back-to-back titles.
“We will always be able to hang our hat on being the last GV premiership side. And, while they are the best team in the Murray league this year, we would have beaten them easy,” he said with a smirk.
Tongala beat Lemnos in 1983, champion forward Tony Jones kicking seven goals and captain
Daryl Reid lifted the Hastie Cup after 12 years and 221 games.
The 1983 qualifying final against Seymour remains a game of folklore for its physicality.
“They say that game was as hard as what people have seen. Whoever lost was going to struggle to come up the week after,” Campbell said.
“We had the break and Seymour lost the preliminary.
“Donny Wilkinson got reported in the same game as ‘Trouter’ (Morrison Medallist Phil Harrison).
“All Donny wanted was to play senior football and he played every game in the back pocket.
“He was reported for something pretty minor and got suspended. “Trouter got off, despite ‘Butch’ (Kevin Inness from Seymour, who Harrison had been reported for striking) hardly being able to talk because of the broken jaw.”
In 1984 it was a 39-point win against Shepparton United for the back-toback titles.
Campbell did have an interest in another of the Tongala grand final appearances, in 1991, when his 16-year-old son, Brad (he is also father to Natalie and Blake), was in the team that lost by nine points to Seymour.
Campbell’s playing career was extraordinary, 169 games for United and 82 for Tongala. He made 11 GVL appearances between 1969 and ‘79 and twice won the coveted Shepparton News award, 1968 and again 10 seasons later.
In 1967, as a 17-year-old, he played in a premiership with United, then coached United to the flag as a 24-year-old in 1974. He missed the 1973 finals after being suspended for eight weeks following an after the game incident when he unknowingly struck a boundary umpire.
“It was after the game and the Mooroopna crowd was fairly volatile,” Campbell said.
“At that time both teams walked off through the same race. They were all around me and someone grabbed me by the shoulder.
“I was having a go at the umpire about reporting one of our players at the time. I didn’t think he had done much of a job.
“This bloke swung me around and my immediate reaction was to go whack to get him out of my way. Turns out it was the boundary umpire.”
Campbell played in a Melbourne reserves premiership in 1970, the same year he made his VFL senior debut. He had a second stint in the big league, between 1975-77, notching 50 senior games.
But the 1983 victory remains vivid in his memory.
“It was incredible, so special, hard to describe,” he said.
“Just how relevant it was to the town, to every person.
“We (Campbell’s family) were still living in Shepp at the time, I just wanted a bit of time with the players and officials.
“I invited them to my place, for an hour to ourselves. I’ll never forget that, it was so special.
“Then it was pretty much 20 to 30 vehicles Indian-file from Shepp to Tongala. It was dark and you had no idea what was inside the shire hall. It was massive. Everyone from the area was there.”
Campbell said club president at the time, Bruce Mcneill — who passed away several years ago — was as big an influence on the win as the players.
“They loved him, he’d do anything to keep them happy.”
Campbell said despite the widespread stories of the amount Tongala spent on its playing personnel, he did not consider it a fortune.
“I think it was about $40,000 (I am not sure he realised that equates to $140,000 now).”
To put that figure into perspective a house was worth about $47,000 in 1983.
“The bottom line was that 13 or 14 guys were playing for nothing and that’s the way they wanted it. We weren’t going to win it without paying a few bob,” Campbell said.
“We had a good base of locals, halfa-dozen had come through the thirds and all ended up playing 150-200 games for the club.”
Campbell said he doubted that at the end of the fortnight, when players were paid, that they would have walked out with any money in their pocket.
“They all liked a bit of a punt, the money went back over the bar so to speak. It wouldn’t have cost the club as much as what some people might think.”
Campbell is regularly reminded of the quality of those 1983-84 premiership teams.
“When I’m watching a final and talking to people who have seen a lot of football I might say about a modern day team — ‘that is as good a team as I’ve seen in the Goulburn Valley’.
“They look at me and say, ‘Des, they are not as good as the sides you had at Tongala. And nobody ever will be’.”