Rockin’ Robin Li­ons leg­end


Shepparton News - - SPORTS - You beauty: Car­ried away:

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.

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