President Merv Wegener will step down after 40 years on league’s executive

League president Merv Wegener at Walbundrie during this year's finals series.
League president Merv Wegener at Walbundrie during this year's finals series.

At 80 years of age, Merv Wegener has spent half his life as president or vice-president of the Hume league.

League president Merv Wegener with Justin Koschitzke and former St Kilda president Rod Butterss at Brocklesby's sports luncheon in Albury in 2002.

League president Merv Wegener with Justin Koschitzke and former St Kilda president Rod Butterss at Brocklesby's sports luncheon in Albury in 2002.

He spoke to The Border Mail’s BRETT KOHLHAGEN before his final grand final in charge at Walbundrie on Saturday.

BK: After 18 years in the top job, how are you feeling?

MW: I have been thinking about it throughout the year and believe the time is definitely right to retire. Forty years on the executive is a fair time. I would have stepped down last year but Brendan I’Anson (vice-president) wasn’t quite ready. It’s going to be different as you put a lot of hours into the job.

BK: You will obviously miss it?

MW: I will but when you get to 80, I think it’s time to move on. I’m worried Telstra might think I’ve died because there won’t be as many phone calls.

BK: You served a long apprenticeship as vice-president as well

MW: Yes, I had 22 years as vice-president under Max Johnston and Gary O’Connell.

BK: How did you get into football administration?

MW: Des Kennedy was probably the main reason. We had a lot of yarns in the old Walla Post Office and one thing led to another. We were good mates and I guess I was half interested in administration after being on Walla’s committee at 19 as a player rep.

BK: You actually juggled playing senior football and being president of Walla for one year

MW: Yes. I was 38 at the time.

BK: Who are some of the best administrators you have worked with?

MW: I’ve been really lucky because there have been so many. Des Kennedy would be one of the greatest and Lindsay Norman was very good. Bill Thomas is another one and Garry O’Connell.

BK: Who is the best player you have seen in country football?

MW: Harry Gardiner would be right up there. I played with him at Culcairn and he was terrific. Bill Barton was great when he came out to Brock at 19. My old mate Geoff Wenke was a good player too. There has been a heap of them like Warren Sykes. He was a great inter-league man who could turn a game very quickly.

BK: You have received many honours over the years for service to football. Do any stand-out?

MW: I guess being recognised with life membership of NSW-AFL and the VCFL.

BK: How many organisations are you a life member?

MW: Besides the other two, the Hume league, Walla Walla Football Club and Walla-North Walla Tennis Club.

BK: Not the local darts club?

MW: I might have to get into that when I finish as president.

BK: You became the first player to win two Azzi medals. How do you look back on those years in 1961 and 1964?

MW: I was fortunate. There were some good players around back then and I was lucky to win two. I guess you have show a bit of ability but you need to be lucky to get the umpires’ nod as well.

BK: Besides Walla, where else did you play?

MW: I played 302 games at Walla, about 30 at Culcairn, 15 at North Albury as well as a season at Osborne.

BK: Coaching?

MW: I had one year as coach at Osborne in 1966. I never really got worked up like a lot of coaches so I probably didn’t think it was for me.

BK: How has the game changed over the years?

MW: You have to be fitter because it’s such a running game. I believe the skills have improved a lot as well with all the training the players do.

BK: What about off the ground?

MW: It’s become a lot more complex with all the paperwork. Insurance wasn’t as important when I started and the code of conduct is another big thing these days. It’s something officials and players have to follow and I think it’s a positive if we want to keep young players in the game. 

BK: You have seen a lot of clubs come and go from the Hume league 

MW: There has probably been two difficult times in my years as president. When I was first became president Brock, Burrum, Rand and Walbundrie were all without juniors teams and concerned about their futures. History tells us they combined and are doing well. The other difficult time was when we went from 11 teams to 15 when the Coreen and District league teams joined the competition. It happened quickly and we had to make a lot of decisions in a hurry.

BK: Emotional times?

MW: There is always a lot of emotion involved with amalgamations. Football is a game of emotions and it’s very satisfying when things are able to work out.

BK: What is the biggest challenge facing country football?

MW: No doubt, it’s juniors. Because we have small rural towns, properties are getting bigger and fewer families are around. Junior programs are really important. Some clubs need help from bigger centres like Wagga and Albury and I haven’t got a problem with that. It helps keep clubs going and gives them a taste of good country life. It’s important that everyone works together.

BK: If you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be?

MW: Two things hopefully. I’ve tried to be a good listener and understand the issues clubs have and I’ve tried to be as fair as possible.

BK: Any plans for next September?

MW: I love footy. I’ll probably help out with a bit of time-keeping and jobs like that. They have also asked me to be involved with the property for the inter-league team.

Football is a game of emotions and it’s very satisfying when things are able to work out.

Merv Wegener