Brian 'Doc' Hepper - My Redan Story
Where did you grow up and what are some of your earliest footy memories and highlights?
I grew up in West Preston, attended West Preston State School, and later Northcote High.
My earliest football memories were of Fitzroy and the career of my cousin Wally Clark. Wally played many games for the Lions and coached them to a famous win against the Geelong Premiers at Brunswick Street on a bleak winter day.
I watched every game that Wally played and I felt he was one of the most creative and skilful players I have ever seen. Later I had the pleasure in playing in a social match with Wally and he still had those silky skills of earlier days.
How old were you when you were recruited to the VFL and was this via the Under 19s competition?
I actually started in the fourths which was not really recruitment. Fitzroy had started up a fourths team and I had not played any competition football except games with Northcote High in the Central High Schools competition.
Due to an unfortunate habit of knocking myself out during early childhood, my mother was not keen for me to play in any competition. The coach of the Fitzroy Fourths was a teacher at Northcote High, Brian Bronberger, convinced my Mother that I should play. And thus it began.
I would have been about 16 years old and was thrilled to be wearing the Fitzroy jumper.
You debuted with Fitzroy under Kevin Murray in in 1964. Tell us about your first game at VFL level and who was your opponent that day?
A few years later I played my first VFL game in the seniors. I believe my first game was a night game against Richmond and my first day game would have been against Carlton.
I cannot recall who my first opponent was but I do recall HE won.
Tell us about Kevin Murray the coach and playing alongside the future Brownlow Medallist?
Kevin Murray was an incredible footballer. He was slight by today's standards but was furious in his attack at the ball and was extremely courageous. He was one of the best marks for his size in the league at that time. He was friendly approachable and a lovely man.
After a winless 1964, the Roys won four games in your second season. Were you part of any of those winning sides and what were your thoughts on new coach Bill Stephen?
I was not in any of those winning sides.
Bill Stephens was one of the best exponents of back pocket play in his era. As a coach he was again disadvantaged by lack of experienced players due to retirement of most of the skilled more senior playing group. Faced with this Bill, struggled for results.
Who were some of the toughest opponents you played on and which of your teammates impressed you most?
I thought they were all tough in fact I felt anybody who ran across the white line had some form of toughness. However, in the few senior games I managed to play I was lucky to survive clashes with Barassi, Whitten and Dietritch who fortunately just missed me.
In fact Barassi in a game at Brunswick Oval handballed to me in the goal square by mistake to allow me to kick my first and only goal in the firsts.
What are some of your favourite memories of your time with Fitzroy?
Pulling on the Fitzroy jumper and running on to the Brunswick Oval to play with a side that I had followed since childhood will always be my favourite memory.
Describe the experience of playing at truly suburban venue such as Brunswick Oval.
To play at the Brunswick Oval, an oval that our family walked to through the beautiful gardens kicking leaves and footballs made of cigarette packets, every home game, it felt like the MCG.
Where did you play your football in between your time with Fitzroy and joining Redan in 1973 and what were some of the highlights?
My first club following my departure from Fitzroy was Preston. This was due to combination of factors. I played with Preston for a season under Alan Joyce a famous ex-Hawthorn player and very knowledgeable fiery coach.
It soon became difficult to continue with full-time football and study at Uni, although enjoying my time at Preston I virtually had decided to stop playing.
Following a call from ex-teammate Max Mears who was playing in the infamous Diamond Valley Football League, I was asked to join him at West Heidelberg. Diamond Valley Football League, was the toughest roughest but at times most exhilarating football. The crowds were passionate and loyal very much like country football of today.
After several seasons at West Heidelberg a friend and team mate asked me if I would consider playing with Coburg in the VFA. Coburg was then coached by ex-Collingwood player Mick Irwin another interesting passionate coach.
I was fortunate to be a member of their Premiership team in 1970. A combination of semi-professional football and studies were becoming more of a problem for me and the club were supportive and understanding. In fact at one stage arranged training with Geelong Football Club, while doing a placement at the Geelong Hospital as a trainee doctor.
Who recruited you to Redan and what were your initial impressions of your new club and how did you see its list shaping up?
Following this I was to become a Resident at the Ballarat Base Hospital. Moving to Ballarat I was not planning to continue my football career. Incredibly my playing with West Heidelberg led me to Redan.
Noel McLeod an ex-teammate at the club and now an official at Redan invited me out for diner. At the start of the evening, continuing to play football seemed impossible due to my commitments. Following a sumptuous meal and several glasses of red wine, it all seemed possible.
Share with us your thoughts on John Northey and what he did to help put his stamp on the side and the culture of the club?
In the early 1960's John Northey and I play in Sydney on the Trumper Oval in an exhibition practise match between Richmond and Fitzroy. This may have been one of the earliest VFL games in Sydney.
Our paths did not cross again until he arrived at Redan in 1974. John took control of a club that had not had success for a quarter century. With his arrival the whole atmosphere began to change.
He brought with him the knowledge and experience of a brilliant VFL career. John moulded a combination of young inexperienced players right through to players nearing the end of their career to produce a new winning culture at Redan.
Was there a particular win during the 1975 season that led you to believe Redan was a realistic chance to win the premiership?
During the 1975 season I began to believe that Redan was a realistic chance not because of any particular win, but because in all football clubs there comes a time when all factors come together.
If we look at that side in 1975, there were players that went on to have successful senior VFL careers such as Graeme Gellie, Russell Tweeddale and Ian Baker. At the same time there were players with a wealth of experience at BFL, AFL and VFL levels.
Add to this, Henderson Medal Winner Peter Merriman and John Northey; it was an impressive line-up.
You started on the bench that day. At what stage did you enter the game, what was your role and who was your main opponent?
In fact I was a doubtful starter that day following a thigh injury in the preceding game. I believe the decision was only made on the morning of the Grand Final when I was asked to bring my gear to the game.
Redan suffered injuries to key players during the game and I found myself on the ground sometime in the last quarter. I was on the half forward flank, and wasn't sure of who my opponent was at the time. I do remember that in the time I was on the ground I was unable to get any possessions.
You marked with seconds remaining in the scoreboard pocket of the Eastern Oval. Redan are trailing by East Ballarat by five points and need a goal to become Premiers. Did you know there was perhaps less than a minute remaining and that nothing short of a goal would do?
Actually my one and only possession was a free kick awarded for the kick-out wobbling over the boundary without being touched. I was aware of the time and the score and the importance of the kick.
I was a comfortable distance from the goals for me, but the angle was acute. I had it in my mind that if I could centre the ball to the top of the goal square we may have a chance to mark and goal. However the drop punt faded and went straight over the goal umpire's hat.
The ball went back to the middle and the siren soon sounded. What are your recollections of the first few minutes of celebrations out on the field with the jubilant Redan faithful?
The next thing I recollect is being swamped by my team mates and realising that we had won. The scene was of extreme jubilation to say the least and a huge sense of relief that we at last had ended a twenty three year drought.
Who were the best players you played with at Redan and your toughest opponents?
All players in that premiership year contributed and were important. If I had to single out one player it would be John Northey who was an inspirational player on the field, and off. He was the main cog in the Redan Machine.
You moved on to play in the CHFL with Creswick after your time at Redan. Tell us about some of your highlights and when did you hang up the boots?
Having finally hung up the boots, I found myself playing in the Creswick Reserves to make up the numbers. I enjoyed a very social, and happy few seasons with the Reserves, and we even won a Reserve Premiership. I still don't know how.
Did you support Fitzroy following your playing career and do you feel the merger with North Melbourne may have been a better option?
I have always supported Fitzroy and Brisbane in later years and I have never been in favour of any merger.
You've practiced as a Doctor in Creswick since 1975. How did you manage juggling your medical studies while trying to forge a VFL career?
Needless to say there were some difficulties juggling football and Medicine.
Can you tell about your daughter Dr Claire Hepper’s initiative with assisting palliative care patients through the Shannon’s Packs?
Claire is a passionate a dedicated Doctor in General Practice and has a special interest in this field.
To make a donation, visit www.ballarathospicecare.org.au/make-a-donation and write “Shannon’s Pack” so the proceeds are directed to the correct area.
A GoFundMe page has also been launched at www.gofundme.com/2825bdje
Tell us about your other great sporting passion of golf and some of your accomplishments on the course? How do you find the Creswick layout following the re-developed there some years back?
Golf has always been a complete mystery to me. It is the only sport one can start with a modicum of ability and over thirty years reduce that to zero ability. During this time however the passion and the love of the game increases until one is unable to stop playing despite the embarrassment of his golf.
The Creswick redevelopment has produced a superb course that will improve with further development I am sure. Many older members do miss the original course, a picturesque short but difficult course.
What is the best piece of advice you were given as a junior footballer?
The best piece of advice I received as a junior footballer was "everything" that Wally Clark told me about football. He was the complete player and looking back he was years ahead of his time in his strategies and tactical play.
As I said earlier he was an inspiration to a young boy.
Wally Clark and Kevin Murray 1963
1975 Premiership side
Coburg Premiership Team 1970. Hiding behind trainer 2nd top row.
This was the cause of many missed training sessions on cold and wet Ballarat nights.
Going the wrong way v North Melbourne at Fitzroy Oval 1965.
Training at Fitzroy 1965.
Fez in Morocco
School Footy at Northcote High against Melbourne High