John "Rowdy" Lappin's football and cricketing accolades have largely gone under the radar. The laid-back larrikin from Chiltern played in five Ovens and King premierships with the Swans in a dominant era for the club and went on to win three Clyde Baker Medals. Lappin's cricket career saw him captain the region at Country Week, before having plenty of success as a coach after a major scare on the way to the footy in 1984. He caught up with The Border Mail's BEAU GREENWAY to chat.
BG: Football has been a big part of your life. When did you start at Chiltern?
JL: I learned my football at an early age when my brothers and every boy in the neighbourhood would make up two teams and play matches in our paddock with no holds barred. I played seconds for a couple of years when they couldn't get numbers, but I started in seniors at 15. We won the premiership that year in 1968. I was pretty lucky because the coach played me in the forward pocket and I kicked four goals. I would have started on the bench, but another player broke his hand during the week mucking around boxing and the coach wanted me in the team. I was pretty grateful for that.
BG: So you were pretty surprised to get the nod?
JL: At that time I was an apprentice and two weeks before the grand final I was doing block release in Melbourne. I lived with my aunty and uncle in Noble Park and used to catch the train at six in the morning and get home at seven at night. I never trained the weeks of the preliminary final and grand final, but he still picked me in the team that week.
BG: There was certainly more success to come, playing in five flags?
JL: I was pretty lucky to be born in that era. I played in eight grand finals. Two more that we lost at Chiltern and one at Brocklesby. When you've got a lot of good players that's what happens.
BG: You also won three Clyde Baker Medals (1974, 1978 and 1982) as the Ovens and King league's best and fairest player. I'm told it could have been more?
JL: The first one I drew level with (in 1971) I lost because I got reported during the year and had a four-week suspended sentence. There was a lot of controversy at the time and people thought it shouldn't have affected the medal. I asked that at the tribunal, but as it panned out it did. I was runner-up in the medal four times in 1972, 1973, 1975 and 1979.
BG: You played under a number of coaches, was there a standout?
JL: It's hard to have a best coach, but my first coach Lenny Richards was pretty special because I was only a kid. His grandsons (Nick and Joe) are at Wangaratta. He believed in me and gave me a game, which gave me a chance to start my footy life really. I had some other great coaches in Brian "Skimmy" O'Brien from the Rovers, Peter Rosenbrock (former Collingwood), Jack Clancy was magnificent and Terry Smith from Wodonga. They were the five premiership coaches I played under.
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BG: Who were some of the best players you played with along the way?
JL: Gary Howesplayed with me in the 1968 premiership. He went to Geelong under-19s and the first year he was there he won the best and fairest. I think the Geelong lifestyle got him in the off-season and he was probably never the same player again. Jack Clancy was brilliant for his age and my brother Jock was a very good player. He was born with a foot deformed and he wore a metal brace until he was 13. He was told he'd never play footy and not only was he a really good footballer, he had a fear factor. He would have been at least 34 in his last game playing in a grand final and he kicked 11 goals.
BG: How about opponents?
JL: Neville Pollard and Eddie Flynn from the Rovers were super players in the Ovens and Murray. Geoff Lacey at Greta, Con Madden from Beechworth and Jeff Clarke from Milawa were all good players.
BG: Did you ever think you were good enough to play league football?
JL: I know in my own heart I would have never made it to the AFL. It was a massive jump from the Ovens and King to AFL, Ovens and Murray was hard enough. I got a letter once from Geelong asking what zone I played in, but I didn't answer it to be honest. I think one of my uncles down there must have been pumping me up or something.
BG: You had a brief stint with Brocklesby in 1976, but I believe Chiltern weren't keen to let you go?
JL: My brother was coaching Brock and early in the season I had a pretty bad fall through the roof. Chiltern won the night premiership that year at Lavington. I played a few games but it took me a while to get going. Mid-season I tried to go to Brock and Chiltern wouldn't let me go, so I had to put in an appeal.
BG: Were you there long?
JL: I played out that season there. I played six games and tied for the Azzi Medal. They didn't win it on a lot of votes, so that was probably the reason I tied. We lost the grand final against Walla in the first quarter. We had an older guy called Bill Peake who really held the back line together, but he broke a bone in his thumb and didn't play the grand final.
BG: You then went to Wodonga?
JL: John Perry and Kerry Mahony asked me to come and have a run at Wodonga. My dad wanted us all to play for Chiltern because he would have seen every game we played for Chiltern. He had me playing at Wodonga, my brother playing at Brock and my younger brother playing at Chiltern, so it made it hard for him to go and watch the footy. I think we could have maybe been premiers but John Perry was coaching and got injured in the first game of the year. Not having a player of his ability was hard. I think we lost in the preliminary final.
BG: Chiltern then got you back to coach?
JL: Chiltern was keen for me to go back. I only coached one year and we made the finals, but we had a pretty bad semi-final and injuries made it hard. My brother and I were carrying bad injuries and we got a caning. It hailed from start to finish.
BG: You had a pretty scary moment in 1984 didn't you?
JL: I was involved in a pretty bad car accident in 1984 on the way to play at Mohyu and I really struggled. I came back at the end of the year and we lost the grand final pretty badly. I had a lot of trouble with my balance for a couple of years after and I gave it away.
BG: Was there anyone else in the car?
JL: My brother Jock was driving and I was in the car with his family. I got knocked unconscious and got whiplash pretty bad and Jock's wife got burnt badly on the leg because she was carrying soup or hot tea to the footy. I could see we were heading towards a tree and I pushed myself over the top of the two boys (Nigel and Nathan) and we hit an electric light pole. We were really lucky because the car was a write-off.
BG: You were keen to stay involved after retirement and started coaching Chiltern's thirds. How was that?
JL: I coached them for five years and we won four flags, but it wasn't that hard when you had guys like Nigel and Nathan (Lappin), Jason and Matthew (Lappin) and they turned out to be a lot better than ordinary footballers, they were stars. The good kids you coach don't need much help, they're destined to be good. Nigel and Nathan are my nephews and Jason and Matthew are my first cousin's kids.
BG: Who was the pick of them for you?
JL: Not taking anything away from the rest but Nigel was outstanding. To make All-Australian at under-16 and go on to play at the top level. Nigel would come away from a game and analyse it. He wouldn't remember the 12 or 14 good things he did, he'd remember what he could have done better and he'd dwell on it until the next game. My brother-in-law was a member of another club and gave me a ticket, so to see him win the 2001 premiership (with Brisbane) was pretty moving.
BG: Any others along the way?
JL: I remember one day coaching the under-12s and this young kid turned up at training. He was little and could kick left and right foot and he absolutely dominated this game. He wasn't from a football family and they came and lived in the church without a lot of money. His name was Danny Craven and he went on to play for St Kilda and Brisbane. Everyone used to tell him he was too small and he was injured a lot. When he went to the AFL he still had a lot of injuries and it stopped his career from being as good as it could have been.
BG: You then went and helped out with the Wodonga Raiders thirds?
JL: Nic Conway asked me to come there but I'd probably been out of coaching too long. I was assistant coach for a couple of years and then I took over as coach and we finished top, but we went out in two games.
BG: You must have a funny story or two for me?
JL: My dad would have seen every game I played when I was a kid and my mum wouldn't go to any. She hated sitting in the car and hearing the crowd shouting 'inbred Lappins' and those sorts of things. I remember one day dad was doing the goal umpiring and he would never cheat, but one bloke yelled out 'you cheating old bastard' and it was like putting the red rag out to the bull. Dad put the flags down and turned around and said 'you call me that after the game'. He would have been in his sixties too. The game ended and all of sudden there was a big ruckus down the other end. Everyone ran down there and he told us he didn't jump over the fence, but he grabbed this bloke and let him know about it.
BG: Cricket was also important to you?
JL: I played cricket all my life. I used to coach the kids in the morning and play for Chiltern in the afternoon. I was captain of the Country Week team when we went to Melbourne and it was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life.
BG: What were your strengths?
JL: I rated myself a better bowler. I was someone that bowled on the spot. I valued my wicket and won the batting average for Rutherglen and District one year, but people would hate to watch because I was pretty slow.
BG: Who were the top cricketers in that era?
JL: There was a guy called (Anthony) 'Psycho' Carroll from Corowa and Rod Lavis, they were two players that went on to dominate the Wangaratta comp when they switched from Rutherglen and District. Another guy I really rated was Wayne Daly. He was a really casual guy, he'd be out drinking until five o'clock and get up the next day and play good cricket.
BG: Cricket coaching was to follow?
JL: I probably coached the under-14s at Chiltern for 25 years. We moved to Wodonga and I went back because my stepson could play one more year there.
BG: You must have taken a liking to coaching?
JL: I probably got more enjoyment from coaching than I did playing. It was a massive part of my life. Every club I've been to I've met a lot of great people. It's probably the best thing about sport.
BG: Do you still try to stay involved at Chiltern?
JL: My granddaughter (Amy) plays netball at Chiltern and she's a pretty talented kid. She broke the little athletics record in Wodonga for 800 metres, so she can run. I also take a guy called Kevin Smith along to all the home games. He's got a disability, but he's very intelligent and knows everything you're talking about. We talk about all the coaches and players during the car trips.