Greg Packham - My Redan Story
What are some of your earliest footy memories and highlights of your junior career with Redan?
I was pretty much immersed in the Redan Football Club during my impressionable years as my father was Secretary of the club and, to give mum a break (she made him take us), he’d bring my brother Stephen and I along to the games with him. He’d throw me a shilling (if I was lucky – luxury) for the canteen after which I was left to my own devices for the rest of the day.
I remember the smell of liniment, the grass and mud, the chalkboard showing the quarter-by-quarter scores from the VFL games, the overcoats and pork pie hats worn by the men in the crowd assembled under the grandstand, car horns after a goal and duffle coats. I can picture the acorn trees adorning the City Oval, their falling leaves (I’m getting a bit carried away now - but you get the picture). It was my playground growing up. I was hooked.
In the rooms on game day, the players appeared to me as gladiators. They became my idea of what it was to be a man and that’s what I wanted to emulate. I also remember Greg Wood’s ponytail and being a 10 yr. old hippie wanna-be I was more than impressed.
I played with my school teams Wendouree Primary School and Ballarat High School until Under 16 when I was deemed old enough to ride my bike from my home in Wendouree around the lake to the Western Oval (about 5km). Mind you, all my mates from High School played with Wendouree, which was two torpedo punts away from my front door.
I knew three kids on the team who went to High School (Paul Burns, Ray Beecham and Darryl Silvey), and no one else. The BFL teams were very much made up of kids from the surrounding area. A local called Billy Green thankfully, adopted me. He took me under his wing and that gave me that all-important credibility with the group.
I remember presentation night and how emotional blokes were in their acceptance speeches and that reinforced my belief that this stuff was fair dinkum. There were some big personalities and highly competent players at that time (Tony Kermond and Gavin McGuane immediately come to mind) and I was definitely a bit-player early on.
I was lucky to get a game in our Grand Final win in my first year. I sat on the bench for the entire game but I’m not bitter (well, maybe a little). My father never drank and I wasn’t planning on drinking myself at that stage of my life but after that game I found myself throwing up on coach Tassie Coleman’s concrete porch. So it must be said that the RFC introduced me to the demon drink and I’m a much more interesting person as a result of this introduction (that’s a joke Colleen-my wife).
Our coach, Tassie Coleman had a real love for the game and his players and he helped develop our ‘us against them’ mentality and Gary English was another coach who I was grateful to play under. Ray Baldwinson coached in our U/18 premiership year and him and the well-oiled team that was in place at that stage worked a treat. On Tassie – I remember his complex plan to combat Joffa Cunningham (the Point and St. Kilda legend) was; “When he jumps on your head, try to upend him”. After the U/18 success it was off to the seniors and more of the same (so I assumed).
Your father Herb Packham was a part of the 1952 Premiers and Champions. Tell us about his playing career, contribution to the committee and with your football.
My father was the only reason I played with Redan. He was, of course, the pivotal male figure in my upbringing and playing football at Redan was a way to gain his attention and respect. I wouldn’t call him a ‘hands on’ dad (in that era they were few and far between) but he did kick with me in the back yard and he introduced me to his world of football.
As I said, dad was Secretary of Redan for a number of years and one evening he asked me to take a walk with him (this rarely, if ever, happened). He eventually asked me about whether or not he should be Secretary of the club again next year. He asked me for my opinion – big moment. I’m thinking mum might have played ‘the kids’ card in her argument for him to spend more time at home.
I’m sorry he didn’t live to see my achievements. Him and another member of the premiers and champion team of 1952 Lenny Templar were great friends and Lenny took over as MC at my 21st. The Templars were great family friends.
Dad was well liked at the club. His teammates loved the fact that he could have as much fun as them without drinking and he would also drive them home. I would also like to mention my mother whose support and realistic feedback on my performances have been a constant in my footballing life. And wasn’t she shitty when an ex girlfriend of mine sat in her front seat of the car I’d park for her on the boundary every week (“bloody cheek”).
Your brother Steve was part of the 1977 Premiership side and also champion tennis player. What can you tell us about his playing career and did you ever play in the same side?
I was pretty much referred to as Steve’s brother. In fact, my wife’s father (Colin Dodd – a champion East Ballarat player) referred to me as Steve when he began his speech at my wedding. After the 1977 Premiership, Steve chose to focus on tennis mainly due to a knee or back injury.
He was the regional Victorian Country champion tennis player for more years than anyone can remember. He still plays and represents Australia around the world in the over 60’s Masters competition. Our paths never crossed on the football field but I will have to acknowledge that when we played against each other in tennis he would probably have the edge – just. I should add that he used to give me 40-love start at the commencement of each game.
You are one of a handful of players to win the Dalton-Bayly medal straight out of the U/18 side in season 1979. Tell us about your first season with the senior side and the key to making such a great adjustment to senior football.
Our team was depleted after the mass exodus of the coach and gun players of the ’77 Premiership year (thanks very much - you know who you are). I don’t think I played in the seniors in round 1 but my first memory of playing seniors is of having a one-on-one battle for the ball with a well-respected player in the league in Don Discher.
He was the Ballarat ruckman at the time (later played with Redan – champion bloke) and somehow I won the ball, which resulted in a goal. I gained a lot of self-belief from that one passage of play. I had to adjust my play from the U/18 competition due to the size of everyone around me but my ability to kick accurately, read the play and avoid being cleaned up by opposition thugs gave me enough confidence to think I could make it eventually.
John Northey returned to coach the Senior side in 1980. Tell us about your experience playing under Redan’s only three-time Premiership coach.
He is my favourite coach. His delivery of speech, his commitment to the team and to winning each week was infectious and admirable. I wanted to do it for John. I didn’t really get to know him on a social level but my admiration for him is huge. I did hear from a little birdy that he was a little disappointed in me saying that I didn’t get the most out of my football ability but I have to say that I wouldn’t have done it any other way.
What are your memories of the 1981 Henderson Medal count and how much of a thrill was it to win the award?
I agreed to go to the presentation because I had a ride and I was told I should be there. To see the picture of myself in mums knitted jumper you might think I was a little underdressed for the occasion but I was actually sent back inside the house to change what I had on previously (I’m thinking tracksuit and thongs).
I never expected to get near and I think the Courier went with the headline “surprise win” which it obviously was but as it got to the final rounds I do remember thinking that I really wanted to win it (even if Gary Green could’ve or should’ve).
I was interviewed after on 3BA. I was asked what part of the win did I attribute to the influence of John Northey. I replied “Great coach John Northey”. I was not equipped for that moment.
Only three vague memories of that night remain. Gary Murnane’s girlfriend’s (Vicky) indoor swimming pool, some nudity and getting a taxi (paid for by Bruce Milthorpe) from one side of Sturt street to the other to pick up the early edition of the Courier.
Redan finished second season 1981 with a 15-3 record and took on Golden Point in the Grand Final but fell by 54 points. Following a 9 point Second Semi-final loss to Point, you must have given yourselves a good chance that day?
(Insert expletive here) Golden Point.
At what stage did St Kilda flag their interest in your services and what was the biggest adjustment you needed to make to play VFL football?
Having won the Henderson Medal I was invited to play in a scratch match combining the St. Kilda list players and the zoned players. It was a dog eat dog situation where everyone was flat out trying to impress. I remember Joffa Cunningham as one of the only players to feed me a handball rather than kick it himself.
From then it was a bit of being in the right place at the right time. I did enough to progress to the next practice match against Sandringham where their ruckman drove his knees into my back and gave me an indication of what was in store in the big time.
Due to an injury to Wayne Slattery (who was a SA import), I was given the opportunity to play in the senior team against South Melbourne at the Lake Oval. I would simply drop off my opponent as the ball came downfield and team mate Robert Elphingston was good enough to get it and pop it over to me so I could kick the goals. I remember Barry Breen giving me his socks for that game, as I didn’t have any.
Next stop, round one. As the siren sounded and I heard the roar before the opening bounce of my VFL career the encompassing thought in my brain was ‘How the hell did I end up here?’ One of the biggest adjustments to playing VFL was having to cut my hair – see STK FC photo.
But there were others. I could be flicked over the boundary line fence by the opposition back pocket players who’d spent way too much time in the weight room, so I had to use my assets to avoid them, make every possession count as well as kick goals.
I pretty well did this until I was injured mid way through my first year under Alex Jesalenko. As I bent down to gather the ball after the ruck contest a bone in my neck was cracked by the Melbourne ruckman, Michael Seddon.
At the presentation night that year I sat next to Ian Stewart who was singing my praises because I’d polled very well in the games I had played and I also won the presidents ‘Most Courageous Award’. In responding to Ian, I played myself down saying how I needed to improve my fitness and strength. Well Ian really took what I said on board and I worked harder in the gym and on my fitness but in doing so I lost some flexibility.
There was also a noticeable shift from playing with freedom to a focus on trying not to make mistakes (Tony Jewell, the new coach, could be brutal). I eventually fell out of favour. This was reinforced when the club went all out to secure the services of Sydney player Silvio Foschini. He was a similar type player to me only he was better.
Ian Stewart sacked me at the end of the season (I asked him if I could still go on the footy trip) and I ended up doing a pre season with Geelong along side Gary Ablett and Danny Frawley. I did OK but a deal was not struck because, I was told, that St. Kilda wanted $7000 for the transfer. That pretty well signalled the end of that.
I must say that when I came back from St. Kilda I was only ever going to play for Redan but Evan Hicks insisted I come to his house for scones and tea to discuss terms. After pleasantries he wanted me to start negotiations by saying my price.
I said whatever you reckon’s fair but he insisted I say a number. I then thought of what my good friend Greg Ryan got at Ballarat and said $250 a game (I think). Evan laughed as if it was a ridiculous figure but then said he’d see what he could do.
I felt embarrassed that I’d said the price but also thought that it was roughly around what I thought players were getting. Much later I related the story to my friend Raj, who was on the board and he said they were prepared to pay me anything.
Evan was old school and even though our families had a long-term relationship he was forever the clubman trying to do the best deal. It did, however straighten me up in terms of being blindly loyal to a club.
Who were some of your opponents and which of your 17 VFL games was your best?
I don’t remember my best game. I sometimes appear on The Winners on FOX Footy and I’m amazed at how much I’ve forgotten. I only remember moments in time. One that sticks in my mind was positioning myself purposely on the goal line in front of the point post to shark the ball off the back of the pack of players attempting to mark and then after grabbing the ball, running along the goal line to snap the goal avoiding the clambering pack of Hawthorn talls to do it.
I remember Greg Williams taking the ball virtually out of my hands as I was about to take possession, Ross Glendening’s strength and ability, Doug Booth kicking a dog who entered the ground at the MCG, a fight breaking out in the same game against Melbourne and me trying to avoid being punched in the face while at the same time preventing Shane Zantuck (who loved a fight) from entering into the fray (Don’t get involved, OK go in if you want, don’t get involved, OK go in if you want), attempting to tackle Robbie Flower (I had him) and him turning on a 5 cent coin, putting on the jets and leaving me in his wake (Which way did he go? which way did he go?), kicking a goal at Victoria Park after a Collingwood fan told me about the wind direction in a certain pocket and slapping Matt Rendell hard on his bum after he had inadvertently tapped the ball to me from a boundary throw in from which I snapped a goal.
Tell us about playing under Alex Jesaulenko and then Tony Jewel while with the Saints?
Jezza had faith in the players and was good in the lead up to the game but probably was less able to react or inspire during a game. Tony Jewell worked from a position of fear so players were more concerned with not doing the wrong thing, which would incur his wrath, rather than focusing on exploring the available possibilities presented to them during a game. Very negative.
How did the City Oval compare with Moorabbin in those days?
About the same.
Tell us about the strong Ballarat contingent due to the zoning rules back then.
There were three distinct groups. The locals, the South Australians and the Ballarat group. The Ballarat contingent travelled together and definitely formed a bond but I moved down there and had good, fun relationships with all people from all levels at the club.
Tony Lockett debuted the following season. Did you play much football with the Future AFL Hall of Famer and was it apparent even then how successful he would become?
No. I couldn’t tell at that stage. He did stay at my flat (St. Kilda’s flat) when he stayed down and he is a loyal friend but I never played with him.
Who was the toughest opponent at VFL level and the best player you shared a field with?
Toughest opponent was Rod Ashman from Carlton and best player was Ross Glendenning from North Melbourne.
How did the legendary Saints Disco compare with nights at the Blue Room (The Den) at the City Oval?
After the St. Kilda games I’d travel back to Ballarat on most occasions and didn’t really do the disco thing. I went to all of the Redan functions and had a hoot but after most games we’d go to The Bunch Of Gapes or the Western Oval and then most of my team mates would go to the Canopy Club or The Craigs Hotel where all the over made up girls would go. I would avoid that disco scene and head to the Ballarat Hotel with bands, emo’s and alternative points of view.
You returned to Redan in 1984 and won your second Dalton-Bayly medal. How much attention did you cop from opposition sides following your stint in the VFL and what are your recollections of the season and Grand Final loss to North Ballarat?
I remember a young kid playing for Daylesford having the job on me. He nullified me somewhat and received an almighty reception as he exited the ground. He even appeared in the same pub we’d stopped at on the way back to Ballarat where he got more cheers from the locals.
I didn’t enjoy the negativity of taggers just as I don’t enjoy following teams where a coach’s negative mindset dominates the way they play (I’m looking squarely at you Ross Lyon).
The Grand Final - I got hit in the head by our ruckman Eric Lowe on his follow through in a ruck contest and had a dizzy spell. I got carried off on a stretcher and later came back on (embarrassing). I questioned the goal umpire about a ball being touched and was ridiculed as a whinger from the spectators behind the goal and I remember that nothing went right.
Our after match celebration when John Northey took over as MC was a hoot and I remember some North players turning up to our function as theirs was supposedly an ordinary affair.
Who are the best five players you played with at Redan and your toughest BFL opponent?
I find this question too hard to answer. Once I start naming a few I’m more than aware of those I’m leaving out. I’ll just make mention of Gary Murnane who was my protector and I did love the way Terry ‘Mammy’ McAliece played.
My toughest opponents were Peter Keil who was just class and Tony ‘Bird’ Howlett who fits the bill of a country football legend. He only had one eye, was the difference between his side winning or losing on more occasions than not, kicked goals from any boundary line, was not too serious, could drink, take the piss, tell a story and was up for a laugh, song and a party.
How would you describe yourself as a player?
Competitive, driven with a damaging left foot.
As a left footer, how much of an advantage (if any) did you feel that gave you and do you have a theory as to why left footers tend to have poorer opposite sides than right footers?
It’s true, but I’ve got no theory.
You also had a distinguished career with the BFL interleague side, what are some of your favourite memories and highlights from those experiences?
Memories - Prior to 1980, the players selected for the teams certainly lacked a commitment to representative football. When John Northey was appointed coach, he stipulated that every player selected had to turn up to training or the clubs would be fined. Once that happened we all came under his spell and the rivalries and existing hatreds took a back seat.
We became integral cogs in his plan to achieve what we all came to realise was a worthwhile and enduring achievement. It rates as my best footballing experience and the bond formed with all the people involved in that win will last forever.
Highlights - The bus trip home from the Western Border after the Grand Final win. I made up a verse to a song that was doing the traps at the time called ‘Charlie’s Getting Married At Last’. I changed the lyric to ‘Ballarat Has Won One At Last’ John Shultz came up with the lyric ‘John Northey gave the order, We stuck it up the Border” – classic. My favourite photo is attached. In the mud, being protected by Robbie Muir and Robbie Biggs.
You are renowned as one of the great characters to have played with Redan. Can you think of one or two incidents that may have helped you earn that reputation?
I don’t feel that I’m in the position to comment on what makes me a character. My being a character is a result of me simply being who I am.
Rob Gaylard in his My Redan Story mentioned an impromptu singing performance at Bondi Beach. What are your recollections of the song and crowd reaction?
Well, I’ve been choirmaster to difficult crowds in my time – Derby Day grandstand, late night trams and trains but that was like herding cats in a dairy.
Tell us about the rest of your football journey following your time with Redan and have you had any involvement with football since your playing days?
Living in Melbourne and due to unforseen circumstances (no licence), the trip back and forth to Ballarat wasn’t viable so I spent a year playing for Caulfield in 1985 with my good friend Greg Ryan (Ryno). It was a great year and I’m proud of my association with the Caulfield Football Club and it’s people.
I have it on good authority from my ex coach Mick Robinson, that I would have won the Field medal in the VFA (instead of losing it by one vote), if I hadn’t fallen down three flights of stairs the Friday before an important clash against Dandenong. I might have been over refreshed at the time but that’s only hearsay.
The next year Ryno hatched an idea to travel around Australia, play footy and get paid. So the both of us travelled together in 1986 and played with St. Mary’s in Darwin and Kedron in Queensland. We won the premiership with St. Mary’s but I certainly wasn’t at my best and was lucky to be in the 22 that took to the field that day.
It became evident that extreme heat and redheads don’t thrive when mixed together. It was the only senior premiership that I ever won but at the time I didn’t feel the way I knew I would’ve if it had have been with Redan. I wonder if some of these mercenaries who play today to win premierships for a variety of clubs feel the same way as I did.
We then went on to Kedron in the QFL where the team didn’t perform that well but I ended up winning the league B&F. It was a similar scenario to the Henderson Medal night. I didn’t feel the need to go to the presentation night and to top it off, this time I had to hire a suit.
So to recoup the money for the suit hire, Ryno and I thought that we’d make up the cost by drinking the supplied complimentary beer. Calculations were made as to how much and at what rate we needed to drink and off we went. He’s a big guy and keeping up was quite a task.
With only a few rounds of votes to go I was suddenly struck by the realisation that I was in real contention of winning but by that stage it was a bit too late to reverse the effects of our money recouping mission. By the time I took to the stage for the presentation I was looking more than a bit dishevelled and finished my acceptance speech by asking the assembly if they would like a song. The award is called the Grogan Medal but the ‘grog on’ medal might have been a more apt name.
After that year I went back to Redan but ended up finished my playing career in Melbourne again with Ryno at St. Kevins Ormond. That club had a great environment. Everyone was treated equally and there were no big heads. It was expected that everyone put in and do his or her bit on and off the field, including tending the bar on Thursday selection night. Thursday night drinks after training was something I hadn’t experienced before but I did end up warming to the idea.
After playing I did spend quite a bit of time with Darryl Fenton (who I played with at Redan), supposedly in a mentoring role (selection panel/runner) at Geelong West/St. Peters in Geelong. He was a coach in the same vein as John Northey and rather than mentor him I sat back and enjoyed his passion, his commitment, his impartment of knowledge, his humour and his friendship.
My football involvement now is following my daughters (twins) who play for the Eastern Devils Football Club. I love it. I love the fact that women can enjoy playing the same game that I love. I’ve spent my fair share of Saturdays conjuring up some enthusiasm for netball and basketball but watching them play football is bliss in comparison. I now email some after game observations to the coach of my daughters’ side (because she asked me to) and run some water.
I don’t feel that I’m defined by my football achievements but the Redan Football Club is a huge part of my history and the recognition it has bestowed on me is an ambition fulfilled. It’s an honour that recognises what I tried to be and where I’m from. I couldn’t be happier with that.
What have you made of the club's turnaround at the turn of the century and have you been fortunate to witness any of the last six premierships?
I think we all like to be part of something that is meaningful and will last long after we’re gone. That, for most is about family but what gladdens me about the RFC more than anything is to have played a part in something that is still valued and relevant to people today. And for that I owe a ton of gratitude to those that kept the club alive and afloat (I’m looking at you ‘T’) and all who have followed in contributing to its proud history.
I’d like to recognise the stalwarts of the club who supported us players and occupied those important roles, which are needed to make a footy club run. I never appreciated them enough when I was playing.
I’ve seen a number of the recent premierships and really feel happy for all involved. I feel somewhat irrelevant to the present day but I have enjoyed meeting people such as Kieran Murrihy and Sam Giblett who share a love for the club.
What are you up to these days and where are you based?
I’m the Performing Arts teacher at Iramoo Primary School in Werribee and have been for one hundred years. I live in Anglesea. And loving it.
What advice do you have for the junior boys and girls starting their careers at Redan?
Do the right things by your teammates and enjoy the sense of belonging.