Robert Tuksar bleeds black and gold. The Albury Hotspurs legend holds the club record for senior games played at 468 and also leads the goal-scoring with 333. Tuksar caught up with The Border Mail's BEAU GREENWAY this week to reflect on his decorated career and what has kept him coming back to Aloysius Park for more than 40 years.
BEAU GREENWAY: How did the soccer journey start for you?
ROBERT TUKSAR: My dad was down at Hotspurs. He came across from Slovenia (previously Yugoslavia) to Bonegilla and he was playing soccer in Europe. He was a goalkeeper and actually played against Maribor who are in the Champions League. He told me a funny story about the day he was playing them. Half-time of the game they always had soup and the Maribor team had put laxatives in their soup, so halfway through the second half his whole team was shitting themselves on the field. There's a newspaper write-up about it and everything. I couldn't stop laughing. When he came over there were a lot of ethnic-based clubs and he didn't want to be part of that, so he preferred to go to an Aussie club because they went through assimilation. They went to Hotspurs who were all pretty much 'Pommys' and started there. I was having a kick with him all the time and started playing at Hotspurs at five or six years of age and stayed there forever. Dad was involved there from day one pretty much in 1973, which was the year I was born.
BG: When did you make your senior debut?
RT: I think I was in year 10 so probably 15 years of age. I was playing ressies constantly and a little bit of seniors each week. Every now and then I'd get a full game when guys were injured, but we had a pretty strong squad then and it was hard to break into. We never had third grade then so I played 16s, reserve grade and would sit on the bench for seniors. I loved it, it didn't worry me because the more I played the happier I was.
BG: The club records have you at 468 senior games, what kept you going?
RT: There's probably a couple more cameos, but all I wanted to do was beat 'Millsy' (Darrel Mills) (laughs). He played 450-odd. The latter years I went back into defence and played as a sweeper. I just wanted to keep going because I knew once I stopped, I was done. I've never actually stopped for a season, except for injury. I've always played and I think that's the reason I've been able to (play so many games). Guys I know have stopped and tried to come back and you can't do it, especially as you get older because it gets harder and harder. My motivation was just the love of the game. I knew I was pretty done towards the end, but Spurs were struggling and I sort of thought I could still help. Maybe I was wrong, but I still tried to help out more as a voice than what I could contribute on the park. I never played and coached. I never wanted to do that because I saw how hard that was for guys, so I didn't start coaching until I finished up.
BG: You must have managed to stay injury-free for the most part?
RT: I only really had one major injury which was an ankle when I was pretty young, I missed half a season with that. I came back for the last four or five games of that season and I was about 100 kilos because I'd been sitting on the hill eating hot dogs and drinking beer (laughs). I was as fat as an ox. It was terrible. I tried to play and I struggled through that season. We probably won the last eight games of the season and made finals, but we didn't do too well. I did a big pre-season, lost all the weight and I was fine the following season, but it sort of hampered me and I had to change my game a bit. I also did my ACL playing over-35s about three seasons ago. I've been through all of that kicking blokes, getting kicked and hard stuff of playing first grade and then in 35s it was nothing. I saw the ball and went to take off and that was it, but I never had a reco. I went down to Melbourne and saw Julian Feller who was one of the best in the country and he told me to keep going, so I've played with it ever since. I still like being heavily involved, so I still road run and it hasn't worried me too much. I've been pretty lucky with that, I think more suspensions have cost me games rather than injury (laughs). I've copped a fair few of them. The referees and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of occasions and I never die wondering. I'm quite vocal on the park, but most of it is protecting my players and asking questions. I'm a bit of a cheeky bugger too, so I get myself in a bit of strife with opposition players and spectators as well.
ALSO IN SPORT:
BG: Did you ever think you'd play that many games when you started?
RT: Not at all, I just wanted to enjoy it. The thing is I stayed around because I was a dumb bastard (laughs). The young kids now go off to uni, they play 100 games and then you lose them. Some come back like this year (Dave Robin, Sam Thorman and James Eggleston), but I stuck around and got an apprenticeship. I love Albury, I reckon it's a beautiful town. It's close enough to the city but far enough away as well. To me I've got everything here. I've got the snow, I've got fishing and the city isn't far away and I've got my own business here. When I was young I never knew what I wanted to do, but when that opportunity came (to become a builder) I enjoyed it and it gave me freedom. Especially when I got my own business set up, I could knock off whenever I wanted. I don't get paid for it, but if I want to go do something or the club needs a hand, I can do that. I played a lot of games but it doesn't mean you're good, it just means you're old and didn't know when to say no (laughs).
BG: You went on to form a good combination with Darrel Mills, can you tell us more about that?
RT: Darrel is older than me and he went and played for Border Soccer Club when that was around, which was sort of like Murray United and they played in Canberra. When I started playing seniors he wasn't there, he came a few years later. He had a fair few ankle injuries and he needed that because he was pretty gifted on the ball. We were a good combination because I was the muscle and he was the twinkle toes. I'd go in 'bash' and the ball would pop out and he would beat a player or two and score goals. He'd set me up and hit me on my big head a lot, so we complemented each other.
BG: Besides 'Millsy', who were some of the best players you played with?
RT: Neal Endacott played for Newcastle and played for Australia and he was my first senior coach. He taught me so much as a striker, he was a striker as well and was strong in the air. We had Peter Gunning who was an Australian goalkeeper as well and he was unreal. We'd go to training and when he was on you couldn't beat him. If he had a shit day at work and was cranky at training, he was unbeatable. He basically won us a cup final when he kept for us. We were playing (Albury) United and we were under the pump in the last 10 to 15 minutes and he saved everything. They were getting corners and he'd be taking the ball of blokes heads, he was brilliant. 'Jiggsy' (Ryan Giles) was unreal and I wish he'd come back. I got him as a young fella and watched him progress and by the time he left (to go to Murray United), he was a very, very good player and a good leader on the park. It's something Spurs are probably lacking at the moment, just a genuine leader. Paul Rago was another superstar who came to us from another club and his skill level was unbelievable. It was nice to watch these guys because I never had that, I was just a big cannonball. Kelvin Davies was great in the midfield and would cross balls onto my big noggin. These were guys that helped me score goals and I was lucky to have them.
BG: Did you always play as a striker?
RT: When I first came into the squad I was a midfielder, but we had a game where both our strikers were injured and I played up front and scored two goals that day, so I got stuck up front after that. I was pretty young when that happened and I loved it. I stayed up front the whole time I was at Spurs until the last few years. We had plenty of strikers and didn't have defenders, so I basically played as a sweeper and lost what little pace I had. I could read the game so I tried to do that and help the young blokes from there. You could see the game a lot more from there so you could direct more. It was hard work for me, but I thought I could still be of some use back there.
BG: No doubt you've had some good battles along the way, are there any opponents that stand out?
RT: When I was young, David Pye (Melrose) and Steve Hayes (Boomers) were hard defenders and I was young and brash. They were putting this young bloke in his place basically every time they could, but I just kept getting up and going for more. Danny Antonello from Boomers, he ended up coming across to Hotspurs and we had awesome fun. We'd kick the crap out of each other and always shake each other's hand and laugh about it after the game. Peter Reid from Wangaratta was a nut job, he cleaned me up so many times (laughs). We were mean to each other. We'd punch, kick, knee each other. We were the dirtiest to each other without a shadow of a doubt, but it was good. A lot of my suspensions would have come from that and probably a lot of his too (laughs), we wanted to kill each other. I see 'Reidy' now when he plays over-35s for Wang and we laugh about it which is good. I can't say that with all my opponents though. A couple of blokes from Diamonds and maybe Twin City, there's some bad feelings there. I think it happened in the AFL over in Perth where one of the blokes said something about a guy's daughter and I got one of them in a game. That was the worst one and I nearly lost it. I was cool enough to know it was just words and I told the referees at half-time, but I didn't make any more of it. I don't think about it too much, too me it's not worth thinking about. I think about the good stuff from football and the good battles I had.
BG: You were involved in three senior cup wins (1988, 1999, 2003) and four league wins (1988, 1991, 2000, 2003), what was the standout moment?
RT: In 2003 we did the league and cup double and that was the best grand final against Diamonds because we smashed them (6-1). I think it was 3-1 at half-time and we made it 4-1 and it was all over. Diamonds beat United 6-1 in the semi in Wang and we beat Lavington Panthers in golden goal. We'd won the league and all of a sudden Diamonds were favourites for the cup and we thought that was perfect. They had writing on their arms and it had how many seconds were in the game and I remember going up to one of the guys in the second half and saying 'is that how much we're going to beat you by today?' and the last 15 minutes of the game was ugly (laughs). All they were doing was kicking the shit out of us. I think the front of The Border Mail had Kelvin (Davies) and Steve Brunec almost strangling each other because they were cleaning us up. Kelvin came on as a sub and got cleaned up a couple of times and I remember the photos of him holding this bloke by the throat. We celebrated pretty hard that night.
BG: You also had your fair share of cup final heartbreak didn't you?
RT: We lost a fair few. One year I played reserve grade and seniors and lost them both in one day. We played Melrose in reserve grade and lost 3-1 and maybe Diamonds in seniors and lost 1-0. I came on as a sub for the last 25 minutes in that one and it was a tough day. We also played in a cup final and we drew 2-2 and it got called off because of bad light. It was 1-1 at full-time and I scored in extra time, but there was no golden goal. We were playing at Diamond Park and because a lot of other games went to penalties, we didn't kick off until 4.30pm. It was dark and they only had one floodlight. After I scored, one of their guys hit a beauty from 30 yards out and our keeper didn't even see it (laughs) and the referee called it off. They were going to toss a coin to decide it because they wanted us to play the following week and we ended up playing the following week and we lost. We all had Monday off so we celebrated like we'd won it because that was the way our club was. If we were playing poorly, we'd have a function on Friday or Saturday night and all the seniors would get together and get on the drink and we'd play like superstars. That's what we needed sometimes, that's how close our senior side was back then. The following week was a real anti-climax, we were the only game and there was about 30 people there, it was terrible. We also played one at Wodonga footy ground because Diamond Park was underwater and we lost that one to Melrose as well. I remember more the defeats we had. We had some cracking teams and should have probably done better. My biggest regret I think is not finishing off cracking seasons with cups.
BG: Did you cherish winning leagues or cups more?
RT: The grand final is still the pinnacle. It's great to win a league, but the cup is pretty special. It's that day when you celebrate or commiserate together because everybody has Monday off. It's pretty much the Aussie way, you have a beer win, lose or draw. Over in Europe they don't really have a cup based on where you finish on the ladder, they're completely separate. I think that's what they've tried to do here by having a top eight and having it as a knockout, but that cup final day is pretty special.
BG: Do you take a lot of pride in being a one-club player?
RT: It's a pretty rare thing these days. I think they tried to get rid of me a couple of times, but no-one else would take me (laughs). I did do a pre-season with another club who offered me some stuff, but it felt like I was cheating on my missus. I couldn't go, so I stayed at Spurs and I'm glad I did. Blokes don't feel that way anymore. You look at what's happening where blokes have played their whole junior life at a club, go away to Murray United and come back and go to different clubs for whatever reason. To me, I can't understand that. I always thought if I was any good or good enough to be paid, I wouldn't be here. I've never been that good, so I'm not going to ask for money and I never could at Spurs. I give money to the club, I make stuff for the club when they have raffles and stuff like that, so why would I ask them to pay me? Even as a coach I never accepted money. They offered me money and I just gave it back. Clubs are non-profit and bust their arses to make money. I don't think you see that much anymore, it's a bit of a rarity for people willing to dip into their own pocket to help clubs out. It does happen at Hotspurs and I think that's part of the longevity of the club that we are financially sound. I get defensive when people talk poorly about Hotspurs and people that have been at the club and gone to other clubs. It's like speaking badly about one of my kids. My wife (Narelle) played at Spurs, my kids play at Spurs. My wife has made a comeback this year and is playing for the ressies and I think that's unreal. My youngest daughter (Daisy) is 13 turning 14 and debuted for the senior women the other day. The juniors at the club are sensational. What we put into the miniroos and the juniors is great. A lot of the miniroos coaches are senior players or ex-senior players, which is awesome and it shows in the numbers we have. So when people speak ill of my club, it offends me.
BG: When did you move into coaching?
RT: We had Javi (Martinez) as a coach in 2015 and he walked out and I was in the wrong place at the wrong time (laughs). I took over a third of the way into the season and did that season plus another three years (2016-2018). I was happy to help the club because it's tough to get coaches. I did it reluctantly and I always said to the club 'I'm happy to do it, but if you can find someone else, get them'. If the club's not successful, it's tough to get people on board. I couldn't help out on the pitch anymore, so I tried to help out as a coach. We weren't successful, but that's probably my fault being an inexperienced coach. I probably spent more time worrying about other things than my side. As you get older you learn a little bit more about the things you can control and the things you can't. Hopefully the more coaching I do the better and smarter I get. I'm still coaching in Wagga with my daughter's (Ava) team and I've got my C Licence as a coach. You learn a lot from doing that and look at the game differently through a coaches eye rather than a player's. You don't look at how skilful that bloke was in doing that, it's more about why he was able to do that.
BG: I can recall a sledge of yours toward Myrtleford's Tom Youngs (who won the 2018 AWFA Star Player) as they clinched the league at Aloysius Park in 2018. Can you clarify that?
RT: I said to Tom Youngs, 'your parents must be so proud after driving you all around England to all the academies and now you're playing in Albury, make sure you give them a call' (laughs). As he slotted his third goal he let me know all about it, which was fair enough (laughs). I deserved that. I turned my back on it and put my head down and copped it.
BG: I know you're very passionate about the competition remaining amateur and clubs not allegedly paying players?
RT: The disappointing thing for me with football here at the moment is that it's not all about creating a good atmosphere that people want to come to, there seems to be more to it than that. That's how I see it, right or wrong.
BG: No doubt you've seen plenty of other changes in the way the game is played today?
RT: I think players are trying to get more technical and more skilful on the ball, which is important. Our football was tougher, you could barrel blokes and make hard tackles and get away with it. You see it throughout all sports now protecting players a bit more. I would probably struggle now because that was part of the strength of my game. Whatever I gave out, I got back with interest, so you couldn't whinge and moan about it. You don't see that as much anymore, for better or worse, people can decide on that, but it has changed a lot. Guys with pace seem to be a lot more controlling in a game, where it wasn't like that with us. It was more guys being able to hold the ball up and use their supporting players.
BG: Are you still heavily involved in the club?
RT: I still play over-35s which I enjoy. I still tick along and do what I can because the minute I stop is when I'll blow out. I still enjoy good food and a beer, so I try to tick along and help out coaching with the seniors. At the moment I do one day a week up in Wagga and coach Hotspurs seniors when I can on a Thursday night and help the juniors when I can. If the club needs me, I'm always there to help because I bleed Hotspurs.
BG: Do you have any words of wisdom for the club's current senior players?
RT: It's been a cracking journey. I've enjoyed every minute of it and I just wish I could keep playing. That's what I say to the young blokes, don't waste it because one day you're going to be standing here where I am and regretting something. It's not a right to play, it's a privilege so make the most of it. You try to instil that in them and it's hard because I would have been the same and said 'whatever mate' to an old bloke, but it's different when you get to that age.