When Ted Miller takes on a challenge, he's in it for the long haul. Miller entered the sports store industry in 1977 and is still going strong while he remains president of the Murray Magpies after 13 years. He also coached for 30 seasons. Miller spoke to The Border Mail's BRETT KOHLHAGEN this week about his journey.
BRETT KOHLHAGEN: You grew up on a dairy farm at Dederang and played junior football for Albury and Wodonga. Why did you make your senior debut for Rutherglen in the Ovens and Murray?
TED MILLER: I played tennis with Clem Goonan who was coaching down at Rutherglen in 1972 so I went down there with him.
BK: It was a good decision wasn't it?
TM: I was only 19 and ended up winning the best and fairest in my first year in the Ovens and Murray which was pretty surprising. Then the second year I went back when Robert Hodgkin was coaching and did my knee. It was the start of a bad run with my knee unfortunately.
BK: You had surgery in Melbourne after that?
TM: Tim Robb put me on to a surgeon named Doctor Grant who was a bit of a pioneer in Melbourne at the time. He said I needed the cartilage out so I did that but I didn't do a lot of work on it to get things right.
BK: Then South Melbourne gave you a call?
TM: They invited me down for a training run when I was 21 or so. On the first night they ran us around the Albert Park Golf Course and I'd never ran so far in my life. Then they brought the balls out and I thought you beauty. Well, the first ball I went for I did my knee. I went back to the surgeon and he said I needed a reco so I did that and missed a bit of footy.
BK: So that was it at South Melbourne?
TM: They rang me up a few times after I did my knee and offered to pay for the operation but Mum and Dad were against that. I just felt like a real goose getting carted off the track on my first night.
BK: Then you shifted back to Albury?
TM: Rutherglen wanted me back but Vern Drake kept coming in to see me and I ended up going to North Albury in 1976. I stayed there until 1979 when I joined Lavington to coach its reserves in their first season in the Ovens and Murray.
BK: That was your first coaching job?
TM: That's when I started coaching. It was hard coaching the reserves and playing seniors at the same time. I wouldn't do it again (laughs). Not many people liked Lavington when we came in either. I was good friends with Wayne Styles who was at Lavington.
BK: You went back to North Albury and had a stint at Jindera before Bill Thomas from Walbundrie gave you a call.
TM: He started annoying me in 1983 and invited me up to Osborne for a look one day when they were playing Walbundrie. I had a look at the ground and wasn't that keen but he kept harassing me and I ended up going there in 1984. I spent nine years at the club which was one of the best things I've ever done in football. I retired from playing after two years at Walbundrie and was non-playing coach after that.
BK: The premiership in 1989 was the highlight?
TM: We lost to East Lavington in 1988 and knocked them off the following season. Then Osborne beat us in 1990.
BK: What made the 1989 side so good as Michael Erdeljac believes it's the greatest Hume league side ever assembled?
TM: Walbundrie was a great club. You could sense the players were on a mission after losing the previous season. Everyone was so tight and no players would miss any functions. We had some really good local talent plus the McIntoshs, Jordons and those sort of players as well.
BK: How did you keep the side focused as you had afew characters?
TM: It was a battle, Erdeljac comes to mind. You would be talking to them and he would be out the back yapping away. Phil and Reg Star kept me on my toes as well. They didn't think I knew about half the stuff I did but I didn't mind as long as they got a kick.
BK: You had a few dramas in the week leading up to the 1989 grand final didn't you?
TM: We had the week off before the grand final and East Lavi played and won the preliminary final. The SS and A was all the go back then and 'Eddo' (Wayne Edwards) and one of the East Lavington boys had a dust up. Vern Drake rang me at about midnight and asked me if we were in a grand final. I asked why and he told me Wayne Edwards has been carted off to the police station and that I'd better go and get him. I said: 'Bugger it, he can wait until the morning'.
BK: Not the ideal preparation then?
TM: All week there was talk about how the grand final was going to be a bloodbath and things like that. So before the first ball was bounced 'Eddo' went up to the East Lavi player whom he had clashed with and said we should get this sorted out now so we can concentrate on playing footy. The East Lavi player turned around and walked off and that was it. Wayne never went looking for it, but it was good to have him around in case something was going on.
BK: You've had a sports store in Mate Street and Lavington since May, 1977. Given many football boots away to prospective recruits in that time?
TM: I'd hate to think how many. They have been part of the contract as far as many players were concerned. I'd say 'Eddo' got the most but I never minded.
BK: Was the sports store handy for recruiting?
TM: It's been a good recruiting place. You would often hear a couple of players talk and I'd follow it up with a phone call.
BK: Who were the best players you coached?
TM: Wayne Edwards, Darryl Jordon and Steve Hetherton were probably the standouts when they were going. Warren Sykes was the hardest player to stop especially when he was in the forward line for Lockhart.
BK: Jordon kicked a mountain of goals for Walbundrie didn't he?
TM: He was fantastic but so casual. I remember one day he was leaning against a goal post and talking to the goal umpire so I sent 'Chuck' (Steve Chalmers) out for a word and he was half way out when 'Dobby' jumped over a pack and took a big mark. 'Chuck' turned around to me and put his arms out and I just waved him back in without saying a word. Who was I to tell 'Dobby' what to do.
BK: Take us back to 1998 and how the Murray Magpies first got off the ground?
TM: I was in my third and final year coaching Rand and we were back at The Boomerang Hotel one night as they sponsored us. We were sitting around and the publican Phil (Nicholson) said 'why don't you start your own club?'. I just said 'why'. He said you can get the players and everything and I'll back you in and it just snowballed from there. I spoke to Oscar Gentner, whose sons were at Rand with me, and Tony Porta about it and we got it going.
BK: How hard was it starting from scratch?
TM: I left a lot of the legal things to Oscar as he was all over that. Getting players was the easy part. I remember the first night at training when we had well over 60 guys turn up. They came from everywhere. East Lavington had left Urana Road Oval two years earlier and, although people branded us with that, which still gets me a bit narky, we were starting fresh and had nothing to do with East Lavington.
BK: It upset some people from Rand didn't it?
TM: Some didn't like it but you have got to remember players follow coaches and I took a lot of players out to Rand to help get Rand up. Of course when you leave some are going to follow you. I had nothing against Rand at all. It was just one of those things because starting the Murray Magpies up came completely out of the blue.
BK: Being a mad Collingwood supporter, I imagine you had a big input in the naming of the club?
TM: I knew what it would be called (laughs). We had to put another couple of options in as well so we had North Melbourne and the Swans on the table too. We were trying to think ahead in regards to one day joining the Hume league and Henty had red and white and Brocklesby had North Melbourne colours so that ruled them out. I was more than happy with how it worked out.
BK: You coached the Murray Magpies for the first two years in the Coreen league before handing over the job to Steve Hetherton.
TM: We made two preliminary finals when I coached and then 'Heo' (Hetherton) took over and got a premiership in his first season. We had some good success in those early days.
BK: Then you crossed over to the Hume league in 2007 and have had some highs and lows.
TM: It's been a battle at times, We made the finals when Ian Romeril coached in 2010 and then Corey Lambert got us in the finals in 2015 and 2016. We couldn't sustain that though and went backwards. In saying that, last year we didn't win a game but I think we had a really enjoyable year around the club. 'Argo' (Brett Argus) has the right philosophies and is great for the cub. We just need to get out and recruit the players we need.
BK: You were coach and football manager before taking over as president in 2007. That's a long time at the top.
TM: Sometimes I think what am I doing it for but I just like supplying sport for the young ones and making it as enjoyable as you can. To see everyone enjoying it like last year is OK but a few more wins would help.
BK: You regard the Murray Magpies as your home club now don't you?
TM: It's been over 20 years since we started. Before that I'd say Walbundrie as I had some great times out there. Rutherglen was good too when I was starting out.
BK: Your family is heavily involved with the Magpies?
TM: I've been very lucky over the years. Liz, Emma and Madonna have followed me around and got involved everywhere I've been. Emma is secretary of the club now. I've got grandkids (Sienna, Tylan and Nate) coming through the junior footy and netball ranks which is good too. Tylan is only six but he's been training and thinks he's playing under-14s. There is no better place to bring kids up than football-netball clubs.