Wayne Edwards is one of the most gifted indigenous players in the district to pull on the boots. After proving a more than handy player at North Albury, Edwards headed bush and played in a flag with Walbundrie in 1989. And while he won most battles on the field, the 57-year-old is facing his biggest battle off it. Edwards caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You played most of your junior football at North Albury. I believe you were relatively young when you made your senior debut in 1979 while still eligible for the thirds?
WAYNE EDWARDS: Yeah, we were flying in the thirds and the seniors weren't travelling great that season. We had some good juniors at the time David Johnson, Anthony McTavish, and Rudy Yonson to name a few. About half-way through the season they asked if I would be interested in playing seniors, John Smith was coaching. I wasn't that keen on the idea but I ended up playing.
BG: What are your memories of your senior debut as a 17-year-old?
WE: We played Albury which was a bit daunting at the time. As far as being racially vilified, it was the worst experience during my playing career. It wasn't so much the players, more the Albury supporters on the hill. I copped a helluva lot of racist comments from them. There was a couple blokes in particular who were the ringleaders. I hadn't copped anything like that before in my life.
BG: Were there many other indigenous players in the O&M at the time?
WE: I was the only one at North Albury and Phil Murray was also playing for Wangaratta at the time.
BG: How did you react to the taunts?
WE: I was shell-shocked. Big Trevor Leslie (father of Dan) was Albury's ruckman, come up to me at three-quarter-time and grabbed hold of me and said 'Don't worry about the supporters young fella, I'll go sort them out.' So he went over and had a word to them and it stopped after that except for one supporter. I could see who it was and I won't name him but he was a renowned trouble maker at Albury.
BG: Did you still manage to get a kick that day?
WE: Surprisingly I did. I got my fair share of touches and kicked a couple of goals. John Smith come up to me after the game and said 'You done well young fella, I'll get you to suit up again next week.'
ALSO IN SPORT:
BG: That's an impressive effort, especially considering the adversity you had to overcome?
WE: When Johnny said that to me it was a real shot in the arm.
BG: Do you remember who you played on from Albury?
WE: Yeah, it was Jay McNeil and David Doolan and I would go on and have some good battles against those guys during my O&M career. I remember Jay also told me 'don't let the crowd unsettle you, just concentrate on getting the footy.' Surprisingly Jay was instructing me where to run to find space and giving me advice during the game. It turns out Jay and I ended up being great mates for a long time after that.
BG: Did you play seniors for the remainder of the year?
WE: Yeah I did, I still ended up getting runner-up in the league thirds best and fairest despite only playing nine games.
BG: How many seasons did you have at Bunton Park?
WE: I stayed until the end of the 1982 season. 1982 was the year Martin Cross was appointed coach.
BG: Martin is obviously a legend in the O&M. What was he like to play under?
WE: To be honest, we didn't see eye to eye. As everyone knows, Martin was big on discipline and I was used to playing coaches who led by example, guys like Vern Drake, Colin Trevaskis and John Smith. Martin was a non-playing coach and don't get me wrong, he was good. But I was a bit stubborn in the way I wanted to play compared to the way he wanted me to play and we butted heads a bit in that regard.
BG: I believe you headed to Osborne the following season in 1983?
WE: Wayne Styles had returned to North Albury in 1982 after a coaching Osborne the previous year. Growing up as a kid and watching Wayne play, he was an idol of mine. I just loved the way he played and how tough he was but had skill as well. Wayne got dropped for the final in 1982 against Rovers and we got beat. In my opinion we missed his physicality and it cost us the match.
BG: I think Wayne coached Osborne again in 1983?
WE: He did. After we got beat against Rovers in the final we all went back to North Albury club rooms and Wayne was disappointed. I knew he was on the move the following season, so I went up to him and said if you are going to another club, come and see me. So over the pre-season Garry O'Connell and Wayne came to see me and I signed.
BG: What was your first impressions of Osborne?
WE: I had my doubts if I had made the right decision because the ground was a clay pan. You couldn't wear footy boots. Wayne warned me on the way out, 'the ground is a bit bare at the moment.' Because they only had lights on one side of the ground it copped a lot of wear and tear on training nights. I was nearly ready to pull the pin then and there after the first training night.
BG: What did you end up doing?
WE: Garry O'Connell heard a whisper I was complaining about the surface. He told me it gets better after it rains. Garry was a persuasive sort of bloke, so I stayed and we had a pretty good year. Rod 'Flea' Culph kicked 100 that year.
BG: Was Rod a gun forward?
WE: He was handy. I remember he needed eight goals in the last match to get his 100. He said to us before the game, 'look after me boys and if get my 100, I will shout a keg at the Pleasant Hills pub.' So blokes who were in range were kicking backwards and sideways to him, just so he could get his 100. He ended up getting it. We were expecting him to shout the keg that night. I found out 20 years later that he shouted the keg but him and Dave Steele drunk it all themselves. They went on a weekend bender at the pub.
BG: I think the following season in 1984 you end up at Jerilderie?
WE: Yeah, my brother, Noel, was shearing over there at the time and Geoff Boyle was coach. I played against Geoff when I was at North Albury and knew him fairly well. The club got me a job and had accommodation for recruits. I went to go to work on my first day and it was bagging onions.
BG: Bagging onions? What was that like?
WE: I was fuming. I had red stuff all over my hands, ruined a good pair of Levi's and the smell was horrendous. As soon as the first smoko came around, I tied my last bag and went and saw the president. I said if you haven't got a decent job for me by the end of the day, I'm moving back to Albury. So they got me a job as a farm hand and driving trucks.
BG: You still ended up back at Bunton Park midway through the season?
WE: Yeah, I got more homesick than anything. I missed the camaraderie because I didn't have a lot of mates at Jerilderie like I did in Albury. When I came back I was contemplating to going back to North Albury or joining Wodonga. John Smith, Colin Trevaskis and Rob McIntosh had crossed to Wodonga mid-season because North Albury was in a parlous state financially and player payments couldn't be fully honoured. I was contemplating it but as a former North Albury player I hated Wodonga and I couldn't bring myself to do it.
BG: North Albury defied the odds that season to claim a "rags to riches" flag. Were you a part of it?
WE: When I first got back I played a few games in the reserves before being picked in the seniors. I was playing at Myrtleford and got an infection on my knee. My knee blew up and kept me out of action for a few weeks. I couldn't crack it for a game in the seniors after that which is a huge regret because obviously they won the flag.
BG: Did you feel you deserved a spot in the side?
WE: Not really. The boys got on a bit of a roll for about six weeks there with everyone contributing. Martin Cross was coach and was loyal to his players if they were doing the job.
BG: What are you memories of watching the grand final?
WE: I was standing in the pocket where Rudy Yonson kicked the winning goal from the boundary. It surprised most people but it was no fluke. I had seen him do it all his career. From the moment he got the ball, I just knew he would nail it. It was from about 30m out.
BG:Peter Westland was inducted into the O&M Hall of Fame last week. How good was the "Wizard" in his prime?
WE: For a full-forward he was relatively short. But he was powerful and bloody quick. He had a magnificent pair of hands and on the lead it would take a good full-back to stop him. The "Wizard" was also a very crafty player.
BG: Who else did you rate in that side?
WE: Brian Parkes was another handy tall marking target. I used to call him "Whinger" because he used to cry to the umpires all the time if he got a tap to the head or anything.
BG: Ha ha, I could imagine. You headed out to Walbundrie in 1985 where you spent seven seasons. How did you end up at Tigerland?
WE: Ted Miller and Bill Thomas came and saw me over the pre-season and I ended up signing. I had known Ted for years because his family owned the sports store which was in Mate Street back then.
BG: Did Ted throw in a free pair of boots and socks to get you to sign?
WE: Funny you should mention that but Ted always looked after me. Ted's mum also worked at the store at the time was a real North Albury supporter and I didn't pay for a pair of boots for 20 years.
BG: During your time at Walbundrie you played alongside Darryl 'Dobby' Jordon who is a country footballing legend. What was that like?
WE: I remember the first two years was a bit of a struggle. In 1987 we won our first six matches and 'Dobby' played interleague and broke his ankle. He missed about six weeks and come back and was always proppy on his left foot. So he started kicking on his opposite foot. I never rated him a good kick. He had a horrible kicking style but it was effective.
BG: How good was 'Dobby'?
WE: He was a magnificent player and when you were kicking it to him you would be confident he would mark it, no matter how many blokes he had on him. I seen Dick Smith from Osborne one day punch the ball as hard as he possibly could and 'Dobby' still marked it. You could see the look in his eyes as to say 'how am I going to stop this bloke'?
BG: Was he good on the lead or better one on one?
WE: 'Dobby' didn't lead a lot but was fairly quick for his size, considering he was a big bloke. He was a big unit and had a strapping set of shoulders on him. He just used to sit in the goal square and make sure nobody else was inside 50m. If you tried to sneak into the 50m he would yell out 'get out, it's a one man zone'. Looking back, it's no wonder he kicked 100 every year because nobody else was allowed near the goals.
BG: Did you ever burn the big fella when he was on the lead?
WE: I used to burn him a fair bit because I used to love his reaction. Being a typical full-forward he would give you the stare as to say 'why didn't you kick it to me?' I just used to say 'you were too hot Dobby and he would have spoiled it.'
BG: You won the flag in 1989? What are your memories of that day?
WE: I had a lot of family there that day. I reckon I would have had over 100. They didn't like watching me in the O&M because you can't park the car on the fence. But at Walbundrie you can.
BG: Ted Miller was still coaching at the time. How did you rate him as a coach?
WE: I played at Walbundrie for seven years and I reckon Ted done the same training drills the whole time. A bit of lane work, a bit of circle work and a handball drill and that would be about it. Ted's biggest asset was he was able to retain players as well as recruit.
BG: You headed up to the Upper Murray league in 1992. How did you end up at Border-Walwa?
WE: It's a funny story because originally I was going to play for Federal. Mick Thorneycroft was coaching Federal that year and I played with him at Walbundrie. I sort of agreed to play for Federal but hadn't signed. A couple of days later I ran into Mark McSweeney at the TAB in Mate St and we got talking and he convinced me to play for Border-Walwa instead.
BG: How did he get you to sign?
WE: He knew I was a mad Collingwood supporter and told me Border-Walwa were the Magpies. I always wanted to wear the Magpie colours, so I agreed to play at Walwa. McSweeney also offered me a bit extra cash. Thorneycroft wasn't too happy when I told him but I just said 'you can't afford to pay me what Border-Walwa is.'
BG: You were assistant coach in 1992 and coached the following year?
WE: Yeah in 1993 it was the first year that they introduced the send off rule. As you know in the Upper Murray league, grand finals at the time were renowned for being fairly brutal affairs. We had a couple sent off and got rolled by Federal by a couple of goals.
BG: By 1993 you were in the twilight of your career. Had you had many more incidents where you were racially discriminated against.
WE: Not really except for one other incident in the Upper Murray league which riled me.
BG: What happened?
WE: In my first year at Border-Walwa in 1992 I had two spectators follow me from end to end who were yelling out racist remarks at me all day. An opportunity came late in the match when the ball went out of bounds in the vicinity of where they were sitting on the bonnet of a car. I was chasing the ball as it went out and saw an opportunity so I kept going and jumped the fence and one of the blokes may have copped a coat hanger. I give his mate a couple for good measure and jumped back over the fence. McSweeney and the umpire both looked at me as to say 'what's going on there?' I didn't hear boo from the two spectators for the rest of the match.
BG: Ha ha, I wish I had of seen that. I believe you could handle yourself?
WE: I did do a bit of boxing in my day and knew how to handle myself.
BG: I'm not sure if you want to talk about it, but you have been diagnosed with cancer?
WE: I do want to talk about it and I have been diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer which is terminal. I have been having chemo and the cancer has been maintained for the past eight months.
BG: That's devastating to hear, how are you holding up?
WE: I've been overwhelmed by the support, especially by the people I've met through footy. Guys like 'Flea' Culph, Max Duncan, 'Bluey' Curtis, 'Snow' McMaster and Ernie Wardius who have gone out of their way to help me and take me to appointments. I get emotional just thinking how much support they have given me. It has really touched my heart.
BG: How are you approaching the battle mentally?
WE: Mentally I don't worry about it and know you can't afford to dwell on it. I just look on the bright side. A new grandson, Raymond, arrived last week. I've also got a three month old grandson, Harrison, who is coming to visit me this week from Nowra. It's the little things like that, that brighten your day and give you motivation to keep a positive mindset and to keep fighting.
BG: No doubt you would be grateful for having the Albury-Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre on your doorstep?
WE: It is an amazing establishment with amazing staff. We are very fortunate to have such a facility. I would just like to thank everyone that I have met over my footy career, especially all my teammates and supporters.
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