TIM Sanson has always been a straight shooter. And while he may have called it quits on his coaching career in 2011, he hasn't mellowed in his retirement. The outspoken Sanson caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You arrived at Lavington in 1995 after a stint with Sydney Swans. How close do you feel you were to achieving your AFL dream?
TIM SANSON: I had four years with the Swans and two years with Western Suburbs in the Sydney league. I thought I was genuinely close to getting a game with the Swans once. I had a patch where I kicked seven, five and five in the reserves. I ended up being picked as first emergency for a State Of Origin contest. Then I did my ankle and sort of didn't get another chance after that. I look back and when I first arrived in Sydney I was just a skinny kid from Lake Cargelligo who was 6' 5" inches and weighed 77kg. Back then when I was playing reserves, some of the blokes you used to play against was unbelievable. Carlton in particular. They had players of the ilk of Justin Madden, David Glascott and Jon Dorotich who were not only huge blokes but had played in senior premierships with Carlton. And here I was as a skinny kid, trying to get a kick against them. So why I didn't play AFL, I learnt a helluva lot in my time with the Swans, probably a lot more of what not to do.
BG: Why did you feel you never made it with the Sydney Swans?
TS: Honestly I just think I was too young at the time and didn't start playing some decent footy until I was about 23. A big part of that was just developing your confidence and I obviously needed to put on some weight to be better equipped from a physical point of view. Once I started to fill out a bit, you then start to build a bit of confidence and all of a sudden you are capable of playing some good footy. I enjoyed my experience with the Swans and I'm certainly not bitter about not playing AFL.
BG: As you said, when you first arrived in Sydney you weighed 77kg. What was your playing weight?
TS: When I left Sydney I was 92kg and I reckon by the end of my last season before retiring from playing at Lavington in 2007 I was 105kg. I think I played my best footy when I was around 95kg because you could still be mobile as well as have the ability to crash packs.
BG: How did you end up at Lavington?
TS: Originally there was Graham Hart, my two brothers Mark and Paul and myself and we were all going to go to Griffith. I had a job at Lake Cargelligo, Graham Hart had a job as a greenkeeper at Griffith, Mark was going to fly from Sydney each week while he finished his uni course and Paul was going to do an apprenticeship at Griffith. But that didn't work out for whatever reason and we ended up at Lavington. Brendan Roberson was probably the biggest influence in getting us all to Lavington. I played with Robbo in the Swans under-19s and he arrived at Lavington in 1995 and he made a couple of phone calls to me and we all decided to play for Lavington. I just said 'righto' and there wasn't a lot of fuss involved.
From sources within their playing group, apparently Spargo lost the plot a bit that day...Tim Sanson
BG: You lost the decider against Albury in your second season in 1996. What are your memories of that day?
TS: That year the club recruited OK with Chris Stuhldreier the biggest signing. From memory we lost our first two games of the season then we won 17 in-a-row and then got rolled by Albury in the grand final. The one time we did beat them during the season I think we came from six goals down with about five minutes to go to win by a point. So while we had beaten Albury it wasn't a comprehensive win. When it came to grand final day they got out to a handy lead and we reeled it into about 11 points in the final quarter. Just when we were making a comeback, I remember Paul Spargo kicked a barrel from about 60-metres, he literally just pulled it out of his arse. That was the match really in a nutshell. We had a strong spine that year but to be brutally honest our bottom six probably weren't up to the mark.
BG: It's fair to say Albury wasn't your favourite club during your time in the O&M. Did losing that grand final have anything to do with that?
TS: The thing I hated most about Albury was that they were so successful. They were probably our biggest rival during that period and to be honest I hated everyone you play against and that's a competitive thing and I'm like that with anyone. My belief was if you are with us you are with us, if you're not, we'll let's go. In my time in the O&M, Albury was the powerhouse and around that era won three-in-a-row. Yes, they had patches when they were down as well but I thought they carried on a bit when they won and we had to put up with them.
BG: By all reports Albury had a crack at luring Luke Garland to the Sportsground in 2011? Did that leave a sour taste in your mouth?
TS: It wasn't by all reports, Albury went out of its way in trying to sign "Garlo" that season. It certainly left a sour taste in my mouth. "Garlo" was coming back after having a crack at playing for Werribee. In my opinion it's an unwritten rule in the O&M that you want to have rival teams as strong as possible. In that regards there is some blokes at most clubs that are untouchable. At that point in time, they had enough star players, they didn't need any more. It was like Albury's attitude was let's target the opposition's best player at each club and hurt everyone. It certainly added a bit of fuel to the fire when we played them.
BG: That same season Albury beat you by 84 points in the opening round. The following round before you played Albury you went to the media and billed the clash as David versus Goliath. You also said "Albury have a team who have some blokes from around here but a lot of blokes who have been brought in." What was your motivation for those comments?
TS: At the start of that year I knew that was going to be my last year coaching. We had an OK side, we were young. I think it was in February I sat the group down and said it we are going to try to play Albury and Yarrawonga man-on-man, we will get smashed. Physically we were never going to be able to match them. That was when we started working on a press. I watched Collingwood do it and thought to myself we had nothing to lose by giving it a try. We worked really hard on the tactic. We didn't care if teams kicked goals against us or who kicked goals for us. It was just a matter of this is the way we need to play and the players all jumped on board. They were super and opposition didn't handle it. For the result we got that year was massive considering the side that we had. I think before we played Albury the second time we were 7-2. Albury were the benchmark, so I wanted to stir them up and see how my blokes could handle it and how our game style would stack-up. To be honest, nobody ever really challenged Spargo. Everyone was of the opinion, don't get them angry. So I said to the players, I will stir Albury up but it is up to you guys to win the battle out on the ground. Let's give it a try and see how Albury handle it. Admittedly I probably went a bit overboard with my comments in the lead-up but it worked. From sources within their playing group, apparently Spargo lost the plot a bit that day because I was fairly blunt in my comments about Albury in the lead-up. But my tactic was all about getting a response. Spargo got emotional about the comments and that played into our hands. We ended up winning by 20 points after trailing by 40 points during the second quarter. It was the most satisfying win I've had outside finals. Albury wouldn't have been beaten that year if not for that game. It terms of talent they were streets ahead of us.
BG: Paul Spargo and yourself enjoyed a great rivalry and were both competitive beasts. How would you describe your relationship with Spargo back in those days?
TS: I think you are spot on, we were both just competitive beasts. Spargo loved Albury footy club and wanted the best for them and I was exactly the same with Lavington. I don't believe it was ever personal. Like I said before if you are with us, you are with us, if you're not, let's go.
BG: Is if fair to say things have mellowed a fair bit these days?
TS: Spargo is a good guy and I have got the utmost respect for him. He has only got one problem - he's Albury and I'm Lavington.
BG: You coached Lavington for 14 seasons from 1998 to 2011. What did you love most about coaching?
TS: Just the relationships with the players. Half your time was spent trying to solve their issues but just trying to build relationships with players, build their confidence and to back themselves and don't be afraid to make mistakes. I always tried to be positive and not be a negative coach. Just encouraging players to take a risk, play your role and see what happens.
BG: What did you hate most?
TS: When it's all boiled down, coaching is not much fun. Recruiting was an ordinary job and probably having to listen to people who wanted to tell you how good someone was and saying 'you should be onto him.' Another thing that used to bug me was people telling me what the problems are without any ideas of solutions. Trust me, I knew what the problems were.
BG: Did you used to get frustrated with what some players were asking for a game?
TS: I got to the point that when I was talking to potential recruits I would ask them 'do you like training?' They would sort of look at me and I would say 'if you don't like training, don't bother coming.' The O&M is the sort of competition if you are not prepared to work and work hard, you're not going to do any good. That hasn't changed over time. The difference between the O&M and the bush is a lot more significant than most people think.
BG: Can you see yourself ever coaching at senior level again?
TS: No, I won't be doing that again. To be honest I don't know why I did do it for as long as I did. It was more circumstance than anything. Lavington wasn't flushed with funds and it was more of a case that I have got to keep doing it. My motivation to coach was to look after the club and it wasn't a personal thing. I would have happily given it up earlier if a more suitable candidate came along.
BG: You won your first flag with Lavington in 2001 with Aaron Purcell and yourself both booting five goals against Myrtleford. Is Purcell one of the more talented players you have seen that didn't play a lot of O&M?
TS: Yeah he was a bit of a freak. He played really well in the finals but probably only two or three good games in the home and away season. But his ability to shine of the big stage was sensational. He didn't like training much but he had that much ability that he was able to get away with it.
BG: Were you ever tempted to head bush?
TS: Never. I watched a bit of bush footy when Graham Hart was coaching Osborne and my brother, Mark, was coaching Henty. It never really appealed to me. If I was going to play in the bush I would have went home and played for Lake Cargelligo. Lavington was home for me and I didn't need to be having homes all over the place.
BG: Do you think the standard of the O&M has slipped in the past decade?
TS: I think it is OK at the moment. Teams that have been down the bottom end have definitely improved. Albury are potentially not as strong as previous years. Believe me the O&M is a strong competition and if you can play good footy in the O&M you can pretty much play good footy anywhere.
BG: What is the biggest issue facing the O&M?
TS: There is probably two I reckon. Volunteers and clubs feeling like they are in a hopeless position. It's not even about winning the flag but just being competitive which gives people hope. Supporters should be able to go along to a match and think their side is going to give a good account of themselves and not how much are we going to get pumped by today. I'm lucky, Lavington over the past decade has been competitive. But there is other clubs who have got volunteers who are putting in the same amount of work and feel that their club is in a hopeless situation and that wears you down.
BG: Do you think the points system and salary cap is improving the lop-sided nature of the competition?
TS: I think they are, I would just like to see the salary cap policed a lot more strictly.
BG: Who do you rate as your toughest opponent?
TS: My two toughest were Matt Allen and Craig Tafft. I could handle Tafft one-on-one deep but anytime you were on the move you didn't know where he was because he was quick. You thought you had time and space but he had terrific closing speed and all of a sudden he was there.
BG: Who do you rate as your most talented teammate at the Panthers?
TS: Tough question but I'm going to say Matt Pendagast. For the size he is and what he is able to do, he is just a little bit of a freak. He defies logic in that he doesn't like training much and is one of those guys who has got an endless list of excuses why he can't train like 'My nan's cat has just had kittens', then a couple of weeks later 'she has had another litter.' One thing about Matty he didn't like the running drills at training but as soon at the footy came out, he would just go and was like a sheep dog. Hopefully he plays again this year. Because he is clean with his hands, that buys him time and could be a bit of an X-factor late in the season.
BG: Your three brothers Mark, Brett and Paul also played for Lavington at different stages. Who is the pick of the brothers?
TS:They all had their own strengths. Mark had great hands and if not for breaking his neck in a car accident would have a lot better record than he has. He played 100 games, he should have played 200. He won one best and fairest and represented the O&M. Brett was a real competitor and his biggest strength was probably his organisation and leadership. Paul was more of an outside player and good user of the ball and an important link in the chain.
BG: Do you rate yourself as a better player or coach?
TS: I got thrown into coaching and really didn't have any ambition to do it. Initially when I started coaching my philosophy was if I play well I can just lead by example. I felt that was the best way to gain respect from the group. So it was all fairly simple early. My coaching evolved as I got older, slower and non-playing. I probably enjoyed coaching more when I was non-playing. I just loved the competitive part of playing and having the confidence in your ability but also the battle of how am I going to beat this prick?
BG: Were you surprised when the Lavington Sports Club closed its doors?
TS: It was a shock and I was on the board at the time. One of the things from a board point of view, the club had returned a profit for the five-years previous and averaged out at about $250,000 a year. It was on track to do the same if not more the year it closed. I don't think that fact was publicised at the time. Penrith tried to say it wasn't making money but it was. The way they just did it overnight and that is the nature of corporate business. It would be good if it was still open, especially with the development that has happened out that way since it shut.
BG: Did it have much impact on the football club?
TS: Not really. At the time it shut the club was only contributing in a minor way to the football club. The support was more around there was an ice machine there, there was access to different administration support, a little bit of financial support but not massive. It was where we used to go after matches but other than that it didn't have a great impact at all.
BG: You obviously had an outstanding playing and coaching career and were inducted in the O&M Hall of Fame in 2012. Your speech on the night went for 42 minutes. Is there anything that you left out on the night?
TS: Ha ha. I don't think I left anything out. My drama was I was the last one to speak so I had had a few frothies by the time I got up there. Anyway it is what it is but I admit I have been mocked by quite a few people since the night.
BG: The O&M take on Mornington Peninsula Nepean on Saturday. Some of your greatest moments were when representing the O&M including a booming 55 metre goal after the siren goal against Geelong to level the scores and send the game into extra-time. Is it fair to say you were really passionate about inter-league during your career?
TS: From 1995 through to 1999 I used to love inter-league. Inter-league back then was a three game series of eight sides with a knockout format. So you played three matches, trained about six times together. I used to enjoy meeting the blokes from other clubs and getting to know them better. That meant when you played those clubs you would catch up for a beer after the match and it made the O&M more of a community. All the guys back then were of the same opinion and I think that's why the league enjoyed so much success.
BG: What is your role with Lavington these days?
TS: I am president of the Auskick, coach of the under-16s, president of our past players and help on the bench on match day.
BG: Lavington have no doubt improved this season. Do you feel they have got the list to challenge for the flag?
TS: At the minute they are travelling all right. Winning flags is about things coming together at the right time. If they can have a healthy list, get the double chance, there is no reason why they can't give it a real shake.
BG: You are involved in the local Boys to the Bush program. Helping disengaged youth is something that you are passionate about?
TS: A couple of mates and I set that up a couple of years ago and it was something that we had been doing through school. We saw how positive it was for the kids and since its inception two years ago it has grown significantly. It is something that can change kids lives. A lot of kids come different backgrounds and sometimes it can be something relatively simple that can set them on a bit more of a positive path.
BG: You must be proud from humble beginnings how much the program has evolved?
TS: The first couple of camps we held we had to beg, borrow and steal from different people to get enough equipment. But we are now a lot better resourced and the most recent school holidays had camps in three different locations. We have got communities that are supporting us and keen to see it grow. The support we have had to this point has been overwhelming.
BG: The government regardless of who is elected has just pledged $200,000 to the program. That must give you some satisfaction that your hard-work is being recognised?
TS: That just gives us more security around what we are doing and we will be training more staff, that means we can have more camps and help subsidise some of the different programs we are trying to develop for kids.