It's fair to say MICK THORNEYCROFT didn't mind switching clubs throughout his career. After arriving on the Border in 1979 from Ainslie, Thorneycroft would end up playing for 10 different clubs in five different leagues. The tough midfielder caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE during the week.
BRENT GODDE: Some people know you as 'Horrible'. What's the origin of the nickname?
MICK THORNEYCROFT: From memory I don't think people started calling me that until I went out to Culcairn in the mid 80s. David Badger christened me that because whenever we went out for a drink, 'Badge' would wake up with a horrible hangover.
BG: Did you have any other nicknames throughout your career?
MT: Not that I know of but I heard the opposition supporters call me a dirty little mongrel quite a few times.
BG: You played at 10 different clubs throughout your career which were Ainslie, Wodonga, Barnawartha, Culcairn, East Lavington, Lavington, Walbundrie, North Albury, Federal and Murray Magpies. Were you a football mercenary?
MT: I can see why people may think that but honestly I wasn't. Most of the time that I changed clubs was due to my employment in the building industry and finding work without having to travel too much to play footy. I was never motivated by greed or money.
BG: You started your senior career at Ainslie?
MT: I made my debut as a 16-year-old and it was a fairly tough initiation as you could imagine. I remember whenever I got dropped, I went back to the thirds because the reserves competition back then was more like thuggery.
BG: Did you ever play reserves at Ainslie?
MT: I remember one match, I went to shake hands with my opponent before the first bounce and I copped a smack in the head. It's been stamped out now but that's what football was like in Canberra in the late 1970s.
BG: I'm guessing there wasn't much of you as a teenager?
MT: I think I weighed 10 stone (63kg) which is not much heavier than a jockey.
BG: One of your good mates at school in Canberra was Fitzroy legend Mick Conlan?
MT: We went to Dickson High School together and used to play against each other on a weekend. Even when he got drafted to Fitzroy in 1977 he used to come home around Christmas and we would catch-up and go to the gym together and go for a run.
BG: I see Conlan was on The Front Bar recently and he still boasts an impressive rig for a bloke in his 60s.
MT: Conlan loved his weights and was known as 'The Sherman Tank' during his playing days. I liked to do one arm curls at the bar while Mick preferred to do dumbbell curls at the gym.
BG: Kevin 'Cowboy' Neale was your coach at Ainslie in 1978?
MT: 'Cowboy' was still a star in the Canberra competition and led Ainslie to back-to-back flags in 1979-80. Alan 'Bongo' Bongetti was playing at full-forward and was one of the best forwards I have seen in his prime. He later played for Mitta United and Bethanga in the mid 1980s and topped the ton for both clubs.
BG: In 1979 you joined Wodonga and spent three years at the kennel?
MT: I probably played about 20 matches in the seniors during that time. The Bulldogs were in the midst of a golden era and played in the grand final in 1979 and won the flag in 1981.
BG: Any particular reason you chose Wodonga?
MT: Dad previously played for the Bulldogs which was one of the main reasons.
BG: The Bulldogs' success was built on a senior core of players who were locals?
MT: They had two outstanding coaches during my time in John Henderson and David McLeish. But it was the local blokes like Bob Craig, Brendan Smith, Peter Sharp and David Wortmann who were central to the success. All ripping blokes who were local talent and the heart and soul of the club.
BG: You worked with Bob Craig and Max Hawkins who is the father of Doug when you first arrived at Wodonga?
MT: Max took me down to the football one weekend to watch Doug play. I had the Wodonga Ball on the Friday night and I got home at 4am. Max picked me up at 5am and we drove to Western Oval to watch Footscray play St Kilda and then went to a pub in Barkly St. Then on the Sunday morning we went to 'watch' footy training which back then consisted of sitting around and drinking a keg. We drove home Sunday afternoon and Max ended up blowing the diff in his car at Barnawartha.
BG: Did you get to play any senior finals at the kennel?
MT: I played in one against Corowa-Rutherglen at Myrtleford and I remember I got cleaned up by Peter Chisnall and while I was on the ground he said 'aren't you as tough as us VFL blokes.'
BG: You were a big fan of Bulldog legend Des Richardson?
MT: The Richardson's are an awesome family and were very loyal to the Bulldogs. Everybody looked up to Des and he really drove the culture. I was probably guilty of drinking a bit too much in my younger days and Des wasn't frightened to pull me aside and tell me to pull my head in.
BG: In 1982 you decided to join Barnawartha?
MT: Wayne Allen got in my ear and Peter Woodford was coach.
BG: The following year in 1983 you replaced Woodford as coach?
MT: Looking back I was probably a bit inexperienced because I was only 23. I only lasted one season. But I had no hard feelings.
BG: Woodford was a prolific goalkicker in the bush?
MT: The year I left in 1984, he kicked 141 for the season which is still the league record to my knowledge.
BG: You played against the Brown boys David, Barry, Rob and Mick who were at Culcairn during your time at Barnawartha before marrying their sister Narelle?
MT: I learnt early on not to get in a fight with any of them because all of a sudden the other three would appear and you have to try and deal with the four of them.
BG: Who did you rate the best out of the brothers?
MT: They could all play. Rob had an outstanding O&M career with Lavington and Barry and Mick also had a stint at Albury. David was a star but played more in the Wagga competition.
BG: Ironically, you joined Culcairn in 1984.
MT: As they say if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. But my main reason for signing for Culcairn was work related and I got a job with a local in Bill O'Keeffe.
BG: You met your wife Narelle at Culcairn?
MT: As I said, when I was younger I probably liked a good time a bit too much and I certainly had to pull my head in when I got married and had kids.
BG: You ended up coaching Culcairn?
MT: Rivalries are always a talking point but at Culcairn you had a rivalry against Holbrook, Henty and Walla.
BG: What was the rivalry between Culcairn and Holbrook during that era?
MT: I remember most of the time when we played the Brookers 'Boots' Lee would be in the back pocket and pick me up. We used to try to belt the crap out of each other because we were of a similar size and had some good tussles.
BG: Tensions between the two clubs reached boiling point that season?
MT: It was probably one of the worst all-in-brawls I was involved in during my career with spectators also out on the ground.
BG: What sparked the brawl?
MT: That's the ironic thing, it was all a big misunderstanding.
BG: What happened?
MT: My brother, Neil, was running to the bench with his opponent next to him. The Holbrook player had some sort of seizure and started convulsing. The Brookers thought he had been belted and came in to fly the flag.
BG: You father-in-law 'Pop' Brown who was also the Culcairn trainer, was one of the biggest casualties?
MT: 'Pop' got belted by one of the Holbrook supporters who was wearing a ring. It split him fairly bad and there was a fair bit of blood pouring out of it.
BG: You rate that as one of the nastiest incidents of your career?
MT: Tallangatta league during the 1980s was just, good, hard tough football and rarely would you see anybody get king hit. I can see why Holbrook reacted like they did on that occasion but I still swear today that Neil did nothing wrong on that occasion.
BG: Every side boasted one or two blokes who can handle themselves?
MT: When I was coaching, you knew who the opposition players were who rated themselves and would try to intimidate you. We used to target them early, so they wouldn't cause too much damage.
BG: If you started a fight, you needed to be able to handle yourself?
MT: That's the thing, if you started a fight, you knew there would be repercussions, so you had to be a bit smart in that sense as well. But most of the time, it was just hard, tough football.
BG: Did you ever tangle with Mark McSweeney?
MT: I rated McSweeney highly as a player. He wasn't a dirty player, he was just tough and could dish it out and take it as well.
BG: Culcairn enforcer Frank Ravenna was always in the thick of the action?
MT: Frank couldn't help himself and would always be in the middle of it if any fights erupted. He wasn't a big bloke but I never saw him take a backward step.
BG: The following season you join East Lavington as coach. What was the Saints' reputation like at the time.
MT: They had a tarnished reputation but they still boasted some handy players. Blokes like Ron Crompton, Craig and Dave Brown. Craig's sons are Ayden and Kade Brown who obviously can play.
BG: Was it an eye opener when you first arrived at Urana Road?
MT: It was because I was probably a bit naive and didn't really know much about the club before I signed as coach. It didn't take me long to realise that there were quite a few issues that needed addressing without going into too much detail.
BG: Did the Murray Magpies inherit the tarnished reputation of East Lavington when they first formed?
MT: They were unfairly branded the same as East Lavington, there's no doubt about it.
BG: You got a bit of a shock when you went to the SS&A disco one Saturday night?
MT: I went to go up the stairs to the disco and there were cops everywhere. They were there to arrest one of the East Lavington players on drug charges.
BG: East Lavington was renowned for its lack of discipline on the field?
MT: It was something I tried to address at the time. In the first couple of games, opposition players were getting cracked off the ball and I tried to stamp it out the best I could.
BG: What did you do?
MT: I just tried to explain to the players there's a difference between playing tough football and thuggery.
BG: Did they cross the line?
MT: There is no doubt and I did witness some sickening off the ball incidents.
BG: There would have been some interesting after match functions?
MT: We would always end up at the Garrison as it was known back then and would often go to the early hours of Sunday morning. Then you would get up and have a Sunday session as well.
BG: Did you socialise with the players?
MT: As I said earlier, I didn't mind a beer when I was younger and enjoyed the social side. We would start at the 'Garro' then go to the nightclubs at Lavington or the SS&A.
BG: The following year you join Lavington. Do you regret coaching East Lavington?
MT: To be respectful to the Saints I will say it was a steep learning curve.
BG: What was the motivation to join Lavington?
MT: I just wanted to have another crack at playing the higher level. As I said, I didn't play football for money, if that was the case I would have tried to get another coaching gig.
BG: You got your jaw broken in a practice match against Benalla?
MT: I knew it was broken but I didn't go and get the X-Ray done until the Tuesday. Then I went into the Albury Private Hospital on the Friday night for the operation because I didn't want to miss a day's work.
BG: Did you crack it for a senior match?
MT: I played a handful of senior matches and it was good to play alongside blokes the calibre of Ray Mack, Peter Copley and Mark Stevens. Jeff Cassidy was coach at the time.
BG: 'Sportees' at The Lavington Sports Club was pumping at the time?
MT: I used to love the joint and would pretty much stay there until they kicked us all out.
BG: The following season you head out to Walbundrie to play under coach Ted Miller?
MT: It proved to be a smart move because I finally got to win a flag.
BG: The Tigers boasted a handy side with Darryl Jordan and Wayne Edwards the stars of the side?
MT: Wayne was like a brother to me and we shared a strong bond. I took him out to the premiership reunion there a while back and we had a great time reminiscing about the season.
BG: You were a huge fan of Jordan?
MT: Jordan was a freak and we were lucky to have him considering he travelled from Corryong each week to play.
BG: You had one particularly lippy premiership teammate that season?
MT: Yeah, we had to put up with Mick Erdeljac. Mick couldn't shut his trap and cause a fair bit of crap, that we would have to clean up.
BG: Steve Thomas broke his leg badly during the season?
MT: We were playing Henty and Steve went up for a mark and as he was coming down broke his leg and the bone was poking out of his skin. I immediately sat on him so he wouldn't move.
BG: How long did you have to wait for an ambulance?
MT: We didn't, we put Steve on the back of a ute and took him straight to the Henty Hospital. It was cruel to watch.
BG: You beat East Lavington in the grand final and got 'whacked' by a Saints supporter after the medal presentation?
MT: One of their spectators walked up to me and whacked me. He was obviously pissed off that I went to another club.
BG: The following season you join North Albury?
MT: I was playing mainly in the reserves but played the odd senior match.
BG: Martin Cross was coach at the time?
MT: Martin was an innovative coach and ahead of his time. I remember one night at training we were doing a kick out drill and he was getting blokes to stand in different spots to guard space. I was thinking to myself what's going to happen here. But he was setting up the zone which was unheard of at the time.
BG: You also had a stint up in the hills as coach of Federal?
MT: I had previously worked up there when I was with Alatalo brothers and used to drink at the bottom pub. Anyhow when I was younger I used to stand on my head and scull a schooner as a party trick. One night I did it at the pub and someone took a photo and stuck it on the wall.
BG: Your wife Narelle got a shock when she saw the photo?
MT: It's funny but we used to stay at the pub when I was coaching Federal. The first night we stayed there we went out to the bar and Narelle saw the photo and had a bit of a go at me for being a clown.
BG: Did you ever hit a kangaroo or wombat traveling up into the hills?
MT: I put a big bullbar on the Commodore station wagon in case I did. I never hit one but I had a few jump over the car which is a scary experience in the dark.
BG: You suffered three broken ribs one match?
MT: I got X-rays at the Corryong Hospital but they couldn't do much, so Narelle drove me and the kids home. It was the longest trip of my life with every corner we went around I was in excruciating pain.
BG: You got beat in the grand final?
MT: Border-Walwa beat us and had a handy side with Mark McSweeney coach and Wayne Edwards running around.
BG: The following season you return to Bunton Park?
MT: I just got sick of the travel. I played in the seconds and I won the league medal in the reserves one year.
BG: You also had a stint as coach of the Murray Magpies as non-playing coach in 2008?
MT: Ted Miller got in my ear and convinced me into taking the job.
BG: You stupidly decided to play one weekend when the Magpie reserves were short?
MT: We were playing out at Walla and I think I was 45 at the time. I sat in the forward pocket and copped a hit after the ball went out of bounds and it snapped my collarbone.
BG: What was the fallout?
MT: They called an ambulance to take me to hospital. They didn't even operate on it and let it heal naturally. Now I can't sleep on my left hand side because of the pain.