With a Morris medal, three O&M flags and a Hall of Fame inductee it is no wonder Brett 'Bear' Allen is regarded as one of Wodonga's finest players. Allen caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: You started off playing thirds at Wodonga which was an achievement in itself back in the late 1970s and early 1980s?
BRETT ALLEN: It's ironic how clubs are struggling for numbers these days but back then Wodonga used to get 150 juniors to training at the start of the pre-season and the club was forced to whittle that down to a squad of about 25.
BG: There would have been some talented kids who missed out at the kennel then?
BA: Off the top of my head there were blokes the calibre of Stephen Clarke who is in the Hall of Fame, Tim Taylor and Ross Hedley who also had outstanding O&M careers at other clubs.
BG: You were obviously a talented junior because you got beat by a vote in the thirds best and fairest despite only playing nine games?
BA: I think being a bigger kid I got picked in the reserves as well and ended up playing half and half.
BG: You made your senior debut the following year in 1980 under coach John Henderson?
BA: I haven't got any real memories of my debut other than looking back now I know I should have trained a lot harder.
BG: You were involved in a serious car accident as a teenager?
BA: I got mixed up with the wrong crowd but to cut a long story short we got hit by a cop car and there were eight of us in the car. My girlfriend at the time got seriously injured and all I can sort of remember is rolling around on the road and waking up and there were ambulances everywhere.
BG: It must have been a big wake up call for you?
BA: It was like a light bulb moment and I just started hanging around my mates at the football club. Virtually from the minute of the accident I just focussed on my football and trained as hard as I could and put all my energy into that.
BG: The following year in 1981 David McLeish who played more than 200 VFL matches with South Melbourne was appointed coach and you won your first senior flag?
BA: We got flogged by 16 goals in the second semi-final by Albury but we were able to reverse the result in the grand final.
BG: That's a stunning turnaround?
BA: McLeish swung the axe at selection and made about half-a-dozen changes. He dropped our ruckman as well as Jim Britton who was a triple best and fairest winner. McLeish replaced them with kids and we ended up winning the grand final by six goals.
BG: You were a fitness fanatic during your career?
BA: I probably learnt early on that fitness was the key to success if you wanted to play at a decent level. I used to love training and used to pride myself on my fitness.
BG: It must have paid dividends because in 1983 you finished runner-up in the Morris medal behind Terry Burgess?
BA: I didn't have the greatest of years to be honest, so I was surprised I finished so close.
BG: Despite having an outstanding season you head overseas for 1984?
BA: I always wanted to go backpacking for a year and I wasn't getting any younger so I went to Europe.
BG: You return in 1985 but spend a season in Queensland?
BA: I had just spent the winter in Europe and when I returned I didn't want to cop another winter. So I went to Queensland and played under former Lavington coach Ken Roberts.
BG: You only played one season in Queensland?
BA: The club only paid half of the money that it owed me so I wasn't that keen to stick around.
BG: You return to Wodonga in 1986 in the prime of your career and win the Bulldogs' best and fairest in 1988 as well as finishing runner-up in 1986-87 and 1989?
BA: I started hitting the weights for the first time while I was in Queensland where I hadn't really bothered before. So I totally transformed my body shape and put on a massive amount of muscle while keeping my fitness levels high with a lot of running.
BG: In 1986 you contemplated heading to Perth to play in the WAFL?
BA: I had an offer to go over to the west and it did appeal to me to test myself at the higher level. Jeff Gieschen was appointed playing coach of Wodonga and was doing his utmost to convince me to stay at the kennel. Gieschen tells the story that he convinced me to stay but the truth is I met my wife Sue over the pre-season and that's what changed my mind.
BG: In 1986 you finished runner-up in the Bulldogs' best and fairest despite missing nine matches?
BA: I don't know why but I kept doing my quad muscle that season. Gieschen won the best and fairest and retired from playing the following year with a back injury and became the non-playing coach.
BG: Gieschen was a fitness fanatic like yourself during his playing career?
BA: He trained hard but he is good on the tooth and eats a lot as well. Gieschen was also a teetotaller. The only time I saw him drink was when he had a couple of ouzo and cokes after we won the flag in 1987.
BG: In 1987 you won your second flag at the kennel after thumping Lavington by 107 points in the decider?
BA: It was an unbelievable side that season and we had stars on every line. Blokes the calibre of Garry McPhee, David Turner, Simon Bone, Ernie Whitehead, Steve Murphy and Jon Collins just to name a few.
BG: How highly did you rate Gieschen as a coach?
BA: Gieschen revolutionised the O&M and his professionalism knew no bounds.
BG: Gieschen was meticulous in collecting data on opposition players?
BA: Most Friday nights we used to have a team meeting a Gieschen's house. We would go through our game plan and he had a filing cabinet where he stored information on every opposition player. If we were playing Albury for instance he would pull out the file and give you the strengths and weaknesses of every player that was picked that week.
BG: In 1988 you finished third in the Morris medal. The following year Yarrawonga's John Brunner and yourself tie for the medal?
BA: I remember as usual the Morris medal was on the Monday night before the grand final and we were playing Yarrawonga in the decider so I initially decided not to attend the count because I wanted to concentrate on my preparation and my wife Sue was heavily pregnant.
BG: So you missed out on the presentation?
BA: No the count was on at the SS&A and at the time I used to live just around the corner. I got a knock on the door and 'Gabby' Hayes said the 'senior count has just started and you have to go.' I told him there was no way I was going to. He then said 'Gieschen said you have to.'
BG: So you went?
BA: I turned up with Sue and back in those days they used to count the one votes, then the two votes and finally the three votes. When I arrived they had just finished counting the one votes and from memory I had about six one votes and thought to myself I'm no hope of winning it now.
BG: You must have polled a stack of three votes?
BA: I sat through the two votes and I hardly got any but I got a lot of three votes. With a couple of rounds to go I couldn't lose the count but Brunner could equal me, which he did.
BG: Did you do much to celebrate the win?
BA: Everyone on our table wanted to celebrate but I didn't want to have a beer because the grand final was on Sunday. I ended up going back to the Terminus Hotel in Wodonga and had four seven ounces glasses of beer and then went home.
BG: That wasn't the only disruption to your grand final preparation that year?
BA: The O&M officials wanted me to run a lap of honour for winning the Morris medal before the grand final started but I told them there was no way that was going to happen.
BG: That's totally understandable. So you didn't have to do it?
BA: Push came to shove and I was forced to do it. It gets worse though. I had to run a lap by myself and then another one with Brunner because we tied.
BG: It's hard to believe that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the now infamous Bloodbath grand final. Do you still find people are fascinated by what happened and still want to talk about it?
BA: Heaps. Even today while I was waiting for you to arrive I was talking on the phone and somebody asked me about the Bloodbath. It does still fascinate a lot of people.
BG: Do you watch a replay of the match often?
BA: Obviously I've seen the opening five minutes a thousand times. But I've only watched a replay of the whole game once. The fights overshadow how big a comeback it was to kick five goals to nothing in the last quarter.
BG: Gieschen had an unusual pre-match address before the decider?
BA: We were getting ready in the change rooms and Gieschen got somebody to bring in a TV and VHS player. I thought he was going to play Rocky with Eye Of The Tiger pumping in the background.
BG: What did Gieschen have up his sleeve?
BA: Next thing Gieschen brings in the players wives and girlfriends into the change rooms and hits play and he has compiled a video of each player's wife and girlfriend during the season.
BG: What was his message?
BA: Gieschen simply said this is what you are playing for today - family.
BG: The wives and girlfriends were witness to a confronting scene in the change rooms?
BA: Richard Bence who was captain/coach of the reserves was knocked out cold by a king hit. Bence came into the change rooms and was convulsing on the stretcher. As you could imagine all the wives and girlfriends were fairly upset and immediately burst into tears.
BG: There's dozens of stories by both sides of what caused the bad blood between Lavington and Wodonga. Interestingly Darren Holmes told The Border Mail last week he found Gieschen's notes during a home game at Lavington that said 'grab their young blokes by the throat, intimidate them.' Do you recall Gieschen ever saying that?
BA: Never. I'm not saying Gieschen didn't say it to an individual player but he never addressed us as a group and said that.
BG: Holmes also said one of his biggest regrets of his career was 'whacking' you that day?
BA: That wasn't the only king hit I got that day (laughs) but I did cop a few nasty ones.
BG: You got word before the grand final that Lavington was going to target you in the decider?
BA: A bloke I worked with at the Yarrawonga ammunition factory, Don Campbell, was Yarrawonga captain. He went to the Morris medal on the Monday night before the grand final and came to work the next day and told me to watch my back, Lavington is 'going to target you.'
BG: Do you think the fight was pre-meditated?
BA: I don't know that for a fact. But when you hear stories that the Lavington players were instructed to kick the ball over the fence if a fight erupted so the umpires couldn't restart play, it does make you wonder.
BG: You went toe-to-toe with Brett Wilson when the fight erupted?
BA: I wasn't a really aggressive person and I knew Wilson quite well off the field. But I just had the mentality that day hit or be hit. I wasn't going to be a punching bag. When the fight erupted I thought I'm not going to hit a smaller bloke so Brett was in my eyesight probably 10 metres away and we started swinging.
BG: You wore a few?
BA: When Holmes hit me from behind, it doesn't look that bad on the video but it really stung me. I dropped to the ground and then Brett Wilson gave me a few more and broke my nose.
BG: You also got split badly by Wayne Pendergast?
BA: Another skirmish broke out down the goal square so I went down there to fly the flag. Wayne belted me and split me like a watermelon above the eye. I couldn't see out of my eyes because of the blood. So I had to go off and get the bandage around my head like a turban and come back on.
BG: Your memory of the rest of the match is fairly vague?
BA: I remember I kicked a couple of goals in the last quarter but other than that not much. I'm guessing I had a concussion but I don't know for sure.
BG: There were several players nursing serious injuries at the grand final celebrations the following day?
BA: I'm not exaggerating but some blokes were unrecognisable. It was like they had been in a car accident it was that bad. It's fair to say we won the grand final but Lavington won the fights.
BG: Is it true Gieschen said if a fight erupts, whoever is playing on Ray Mack don't let him get near the fight because he will cause too much damage?
BA: That's true. Ray has told me since that Andrew Nicholls was on him and they were in the goal square when the fight started. Ray said he went to go towards the fight and Nicho jumped on his back so he slung him to the ground. Ray said 'I took off again and Nicho jumped on my back again, so I slung him to the ground and gave him a couple. I couldn't believe it when he got up and jumped on my back a third time, so I really gave it to him.'
BG: Nicholls was worse for wear the following day?
BA: The next day you couldn't see the whites of his eyes. I'm not joking his eyes were like two red slits and looked like something you would see on Doctor Who.
BG: As expected the aftermath at the tribunal was huge with 15 players suspended for a total of 68 matches?
BA: I honestly didn't think I would get suspended personally but copped four weeks. Players from both sides conveniently had 'memory loss' at the tribunal and blokes didn't hand each other up when giving evidence. But the league obviously had the smoking gun with the match recorded.
BG: The following season in 1991 you head to Barooga for a two-year stint and win another flag in 1992. It's fair to say that Barooga was one of the most financial clubs in the district at the time?
BA: I was working with Geoff Gaylard who was on Barooga's recruiting committee and he used to pester me about playing to the extent that I used to hide from him.
BG: How did he convince you?
BA: In the end he said to me 'everybody's got a price, what's yours?'
BG: A godfather offer?
BA: I ended up on the most money I had ever been on my career. I also got a double storey house rent free, a job at the leisure centre and they put me through a few courses.
BG: You also had a stint at coaching Barnawartha?
BA: It wasn't a great experience for me because I was used to playing and training at the level required for O&M and expected the same from the players. I'm not blaming the players, I just wasn't the right coach for that group.
BG: You called the players out at training one night?
BA: Yeah I said whoever wants to train hard and be the best player they can come over here. If you just want to go through the motions, stand over there. Most of the players chose the second option but there were a few reserve players that chose the first option so I picked them in the seniors that week.
BG: You finished your career with a coaching stint with Burrumbuttock?
BA: I was a lot better prepared for my second stint in the bush after being at Barnawartha. I used to laugh at some of the excuses blokes would make to miss training but appreciated there were a lot of farmers playing and that was their priority.
BG: You took out some handy recruits in your good mates Bernard Toohey and Gary Ziebell?
BA: Burrumbuttock were a bit surprised when I said I could bring Toohey. I'm not sure how much he got paid but I suspect it was more than me even though I was coaching.
BG: How did you enjoy your time at Burrumbuttock?
BA: I loved it and you get a real appreciation about how hard the volunteers like Lyle Burns work and how much the club means to the local community.
BG: You also had a stint with St Mary's in the Northern Territory competition when you were younger?
BA: The team was full of Longs and Riolis and I played with Cyril Rioli's dad who was also named Cyril. We got beat in the grand final.
BG: Any regrets looking back?
BA: I had a few pre-season matches with North Melbourne under Barry Cable and smashed my ankle fairly bad in the last practice match before the season. I come back to Wodonga but I wished I had of stayed and had another crack after I recovered.