Rockin’ Robin Lions legend
LONE GOULBURN VALLEY LEAGUE SEASON MADE OF WHITE STUFF AS SEYMOUR ENDS FLAG DROUGHT
One memorable season was all it took for Robin White to earn his place in Goulburn Valley Football League history.
White was 30 and had graced some of the sport’s biggest arenas when he was appointed playing coach of Seymour at the end of 1990.
‘‘I was a good friend of Russell Richards at Melbourne and he came from Seymour, so we used to spend a bit of time up there,’’ White said.
‘‘That year Russell and I watched the last home-andaway game — they were a talented team, but didn’t have a real focus in the way they were playing.
‘‘So I told (president) Brendan Hall I was keen to get a hold of themas a team.
‘‘Following what was quite a stringent process, I was announced as coach at the annual ball.’’
White brought a superb football pedigree to the table when he arrived at the Lions’ den.
Originally from Western Border club East Gambier, White was recruited to SANFL club South Adelaide as a teenager.
‘‘The Western Border was in South Adelaide’s zone, so I moved to Adelaide as a 17-year-old,’’ he said.
‘‘Haydn Bunton Jr was the coach at the time and he was a no-fuss, exceptional football mentor.
‘‘If he had have asked me to run across burning f lames or broken glass, I would have because he was such a good motivator.’’
White soon made his name as a dependable halfback flanker, playing more than 150 SANFL games for the Panthers, highlighted by winning the 1982 best-andfairest award.
He also represented South Australia with distinction on three occasions.
‘‘It was a time when State of Origin was right at its peak, they were wonderful games,’’ he said.
His performances caught the eye of clubs across the Victorian border and was 24 when one of the biggest names in Australian Rules Football came knocking.
‘‘I was certainly satisfied in Adelaide, but Melbourne flew me across to have an evening with Ron Barassi,’’ he said.
‘‘After two or three minutes with him, I thought ‘I’ve got to be over here’.
‘‘At that time Barassi was in the fifth year of his fiveyear plan and things were starting to go off the rails.
‘‘He was a desperate man and a hard taskmaster.
‘‘I can remember one day (in 1985) we were playing North Melbourne.
‘‘We were leading all day until my opponent slotted a goal through after the siren. I was the first up the race and copped it from him.’’
White spent three seasons with the Demons, playing 30 VFL games until John Northey axed him at the end of 1987.
‘‘John told me they didn’t need me any more,’’ he said.
‘‘I was devastated because I put everything into being a part of league football.
‘‘To be told you’re not good enough to get into the team hurts initially, but you have to keep on going.’’
White, who remains an avid supporter of the Demons and makes the trek each year from his Mount Gambier home to the Queen’s Birthday match, said his VFL experience shaped him as a person.
‘‘I was at Melbourne from 24 to 27, I really should have been there from when I was 19 or 20,’’ he said.
‘‘I learned so much about myself during that time and the demands the game puts on you both physically and mentally.
‘‘It put me in good stead not only as a footballer, but as a person as well.’’
White joined former teammate Greg Hutchison at VFA club Prahran, where he spent three years before what was his first senior coaching job at Seymour.
‘‘I was ready to coach,’’ he said.
‘‘Fromthe age of 17 I used to get home from training sessions and write down the drills we did that night.
‘‘I’ve still got those books today, I always felt I was going to coach and I wanted to be well-armed.’’
White’s arrival coincided with a number of former Lions players returning to the club in a bid to end a premiership drought that stretched back to 1982.
‘‘My appointment seemed to galvanise the community and the footy club,’’ he said.
‘‘We had a number of players who were Seymour players, but away for work or college that returned.
‘‘Jon Solomon was back from the Brisbane Bears, Richard Martin had been at Broadford, Brett Hall, a chap I had great faith in, was at teachers college in Ballarat.’’
They joined players such as captain Mick O’Sullivan, gun centre half-back Chris Martin, the mercurial Glen Cole and ace full-forward Darren Comi, rated by White as one of the finest goal-kicking exponents he had ever seen.
In a tight competition, Seymour sealed the minor premiership, despite losing five games in the homeand-away season.
‘‘We didn’t have it all our own way,’’ White said.
‘‘The top five was ourselves, Tatura, Tongala, Lemnos and Euroa, who we had a real rivalry against.’’
Seymour was the first team to book its place in the decider and White admitted that he was surprised when the Blues knocked off the Bulldogs in the preliminary final by 16 points.
‘‘Deep down I thought we would have to play Tatura, but Tongala was exceptional in the preliminary and earned their opportunity,’’ he said.
Asked for his recollections leading into the big day at Deakin Reserve, White revealed it was his desire for Seymour not to be swept up by the occasion.
‘‘Because I was living in Kilmore at the time, I missed the hype of the grand final around the town,’’ he said.
‘‘But I also tried to play things down in the build-up and keep it low-key, which might have been a mistake.
‘‘It was a warm day and there was a stiff breeze. We lost the toss and the next thing the scoreboard read 7.1 to 0.2 in Tongala’s favour.’’
White joked he could remember the devastated faces on some supporters at the quarter-time break, but kept his address upbeat.
‘‘I wasn’t panicking, I said to the guys they had their turn and nowmake themost of it,’’ he said.
‘‘I was fortunate to have Rob ‘Doc’ Peterson as my chairman of selectors, Butch Inness as seconds coach and ‘Biggles’ Brown as the runner, who had been a past coach of the club.
‘‘We came from different points of view, but we had a similar outlook on football.’’
Seymour slammed on seven goals to one in the second quarter to trail by one point at half-time.
With the breeze having dropped, the Lions clawed their way to a one-point lead at the final change and held that advantage to secure the flag with a 14.18 (102) to 15.3 (93) triumph.
‘‘Either team could have won that grand final with a bit of luck,’’ White said.
‘‘I can remember Glen Cole, Mick O’Sullivan and Peter Elliott, guys who made critical decisions in passages of play when it mattered.’’
White also recalled what proved the only goal he kicked during his Seymour career during the latter stages of the final quarter.
‘‘Glen Cole was on the boundary and I had moved to the middle from the halfback flank,’’ he said.
‘‘Glen spotted me and kicked the ball around the corner a few yards in front of me so I could run onto it.
‘‘I picked it up, got around one or two players and launched this ugly kick towards Darren Comi which went right over his head, bounced four times and ran through for a goal.’’
The premiership proved to be the lone one White experienced in his senior career and ensures his link to the Goulburn Valley remains to this day.
He and wife Sharon have returned for premiership reunions.
‘‘Even though the body shapes and the hairlines of most of the guys have changed a little bit, the memories remain the same,’’ he said.
‘‘We had a wonderful group of players, a genuine blend of experienced, middle-aged and extremely talented youngsters.
‘‘The great thing about playing in a premiership side is that you have shared something special together and even though you might not see each other for 10 years, it is like you have never been apart.’’
It was a love of travel that lured White away from Seymour in 1992 with Sharon to North America.
The couple returned home to Mount Gambier, where White is the technical manager for engineering firm Bildit Industries.
He resumed his coaching career at home club East Gambier when the club was at its lowest ebb during the mid-1990s.
‘‘The club was in deep s*** at the time, we had no players, no money and were on the threat of extinction,’’ White said.
‘‘The club was a basket case, but we managed to drag ourselves out of the gutter and it was fantastic to see East Gambier winning backto-back premierships in 2010-2011.
‘‘Sharon and I are both life members of the club and my involvement now is running the barbecue and the booth at every home game.
‘‘I’m a great advocate for the role football and netball clubs play in the community for young people.
‘‘The wonderful thing about football, whether it is in the AFL, Western Border or Goulburn Valley is it gives you a common bond with people and that’s what I love about it.’’
President Brendan Hall and coach Robin White lift the Tom Hastie premiership cup at Deakin Reserve in 1991. The Lions defeated Tongala by nine points.
Robin White is chaired from the ground by his ecstatic players following the 1991 grand final win against Tongala. The flag success was Seymour’s first in nine years.