Many would know Ross Hedley for his time in the Ovens and Murray and Tallangatta leagues, but that's just been one period of the veteran footballers career. Now residing in Melbourne, the premiership coach isn't showing any signs of slowing down. Hedley caught up with The Border Mail's Georgia Smith.
Georgia Smith: Most people would know you as 'Chuck', how did that nickname come about?
Ross Hedley: We were camping in Bright and I was about five or six and there was this bloke who was camping across the road from us. He wore a leather jacket, tight leather pants, pointy black shoes and slicked back hair and he used to listen to Elvis Presley music. I used to go over there and listen to the music with him. His name was Chuck, so my family just started calling me Chuck and it's stuck.
GS: Did you ever see Chuck again?
RH: No, it was only that one time over Christmas that I went and sat with him. I'm a fan of Elvis now. It's funny how nicknames stick.
GS: Is it fair to say you've played at your fair share of clubs over the years?
RH: You could say that. Every one I've been to I've loved and I've met some great people through the journey. Anywhere I go now I often run into someone I know, which is all through footy.
GS: In 1987 you were a part of Wodonga Demons' first flag, but you were almost sidelined for the game with a concussion?
RH: It was a pretty spiteful sort of a grand final. I had a bloke who got me just before half-time with a pretty good one and knocked me out. We had a club doctor then and he told me I shouldn't go back on because I was completely out. I got up, the boys went out and I sat on the bench after half-time and there was three of us. The two blokes who were on the bench couldn't go back on because they were injured, so I just ran back on and sat in the forward pocket for the rest of the game.
GS: You wouldn't see that now.
RH: When you see what happens today they cop any little bump and they're off and they don't play. It's a different era now and I think for the better.
GS: You played against your brother-in-law Peter Ohlin in that game, do you ever discus the grand final?
RH: When myself, Scott, Pete and Lee all get together as a family we often talk about it. It's quite good too because we get the Mitta perspective, the build up and what transpired beforehand and what went on after it. We won by five or six points in the end, it was a pretty tight tussle all day. We had huge tussles against Mitta. It was always a bit of a rivalry there and always fiercely competitive games.
GS: In 2000 you coached Yackandandah to a flag. How special was that for the club?
RH: It was pretty special. They were starved for success for a long time. I think the last time they won a flag was 1964. I remember getting interviewed for the job by Butcher Dale and Bomber Brown and they said they'd always had good teams out there but they could only make it to the prelims. We were fortunate enough to make it in 2000 and go on and win it.
GS: You also had a family connection to the club?
RH:My grandfather (Edgar) played at Yackandandah and my father (Bill) played at Yack, so the history was there. Mark Mongon played with my father and he said I should have been out there years ago. When I was playing with the Demons he used to always come up and tell me that I should be playing under the grandfather and father rule.
GS: You had a close friendship with the late Paul Wolk?
RH: Wolky was always the life of the party. He was just good fun to be around, he enjoyed life to the fullest and he was a great teammate. He was one of those blokes you loved playing with because you knew he had your back all the time. We were playing a practice match in Wodonga at Martin Park and a man by the name of David Starbuck was our chairman of selectors at the time. He was on holidays for this game and wasn't at the match. I think it was about halfway through the third quarter and Wolky had taken this huge big screamer and stood on someone's shoulders in the goal square. We were all cheering and clapping. Wolky was a bit of a showman and very charismatic. He walked passed me with the football in one hand and had it above his head showing the crowd. With a cheeky grin on his face he gave me a wink and said, "David Starbuck is on his way back home." Anyway he's gone back and kicked the goal. I said, "what did you mean by that statement Wolky?" And he goes, "I was up that high I could see him refueling at Holbrook." That was typical Wolky, he was just a real character and loved a laugh. Unfortunately he went too young to motor neuron disease.
GS: You got the opportunity to play with your brothers, Steven and Scott?
RH: Yeah that's one of the highlights in my footy, being able to play with my brothers. I was lucky enough to play with Steven between 79-82 at Wodonga and I played a fair bit more with Scott at the Wodonga Demons and Raiders. I loved playing footy with my brothers.
GS: At the age of 58 you're still playing footy. Do you ever get a hard time about your age on the field?
RH: I was never a big sledger. Last year at Bright we were playing Greta at Greta and there was this young bloke who right from the first bounce was into me. "Give it away Hedley, you're too old, you're too slow." He'd come in and start bumping into me telling me to "give it away". Halfway through the third quarter they kicked another goal and they were about 10 goals up and he was into me again. He started bumping into me and I just turned around to him and said, "listen mate, show a bit of respect, and by the way, I've slept with your aunty." The umpire heard this and said, "hey come on mate, you've crossed the line." I said "give us a break, he's been into me all day and anyway, that's my nephew, so I have slept with his aunty." That's one of the difficulties, you play long enough you get to play against your nephews.
GS: How did you come to play at Bright?
RH: We've been going there as a family for 50 odd years and have come to know the locals. I was having a drink with a few locals and said I would have loved to have had a game with Bright and they said well, do it. So I rang the senior coach and reserve coach and said I'd be coming up at different times to see my mum and would they mind, if they're short, if I have a game. They said no worries and welcomed me with open arms. I've had a ball. I was lucky enough to play in a flag with them in 2017 in the reserves. I've had a few mates like Nic Conway, John Teunon and Adrian Williams who have come over and played too. Country footy is struggling a little bit with numbers, so we were never putting a young fella out of a game. If we didn't play, they might have struggled to put a team together. So it was good that we could help them in that regard.
GS: After moving to Melbourne you joined North Footscray, how did that come about?
RH: That was a funny one. After I moved here from East Malvern it was late March and I was going for a run. I was running past the football ground and I saw some blokes out the front warming up and having a kick, so I went over and asked where the coach was. I went and introduced myself and said would you mind if I trained with you? They said yeah no worries. I said I don't intend to play but I wouldn't mind if I could train. I turned up the next week and one of the blokes was getting married and they had a practice match on. The Thursday night they asked me to give them a hand as they were short in the twos. I said no worries. I was fortunate enough that day to get a couple of kicks. I went to training the next week and the first game they picked me in the ones and that's sort of how it all came about. I ended up playing there and coaching them. As soon as you walk into a footy club anywhere straight away you have 40 mates. It was good for me when I first came to Melbourne because I knew no one.
GS: You've also made the All Australian masters' team in recent years?
RH: Yeah, I've been fortunate enough to make the All Australian side a couple of times.
GS: And played overseas?
RH: The masters run a tournament every year in Bali on the Queen's birthday long weekend. It's nine a side and played on a soccer field. Myself and some mates put a team together and have been going there to play footy for the last three or four years. There's ex-AFL footballers running around so it's a pretty good standard of footy. It's tough because it's pretty social once the games are over and the night before and during the game you can imagine 30 degrees and 100 per cent humidity. Through that I've met some fantastic people. Wayne Carey played one year, Ricky Olarenshaw from Essendon and Steve Baker from St Kilda. It's quite an experience. Bali itself is an experience.
GS: It hasn't been uncommon for you to play two games in one week?
RH: Between 84-88 I played on a Wednesday with the army and then would back it up again on the Saturday and play with Wodonga Demons. The Army used to run a comp and I was able to play as a public servant. There was one game, I was playing for Wodonga at this stage back in 1979. I had a mate, Craig Walsh, who was playing for the Rivcoll Bushpigs. It was the Queen's birthday long weekend and I went up there to catch up with him and ended up playing the game with him and the Bushpigs under a dodgy name and then went back to play with Wodonga on the Monday.
ALSO IN SPORT:
GS: You must love the game?
RH: I do. We were a football family. Mum and dad loved their footy. Dad was my first coach in under-9s at the Wodonga Showgrounds. They played a big part in my football career and were very supportive of me from early years to later years.
GS: Would you say you played your best footy in your earlier years or got better with age?
RH: I probably played my better footy from 30 onwards. It was no coincidence, it had a lot to do with my fitness levels. A lot of things changed when I turned 30. I cut back on alcohol, trained a lot harder, did recovery sessions and watched what I ate. The year I did it I probably had one of my better years. I suppose it's become a bit of an addiction because the harder I trained the better I played.
GS: You've been lucky with injuries?
RH: I've had normal hamstring and calf muscle soft tissue injuries. A lot of my worst injuries have been concussions, broken cheek bones and a broken nose. They've all been upper body, where my knees and ankles, touch wood, have all been pretty good.
GS: You've had success at several clubs, is there a flag that stands out?
RH: Playing in one with my brother, Scott, in the Demons first one was special in itself. In saying that, you go to Yack who was so success starved and hadn't won one since 1964. I remember going back to Yack on the Saturday night and seeing the smiles on the whole town. To see blokes who had put a lot of work into the place, like Bomber Brown and Butcher Dale, get a bit of success. With North Footscray, they hadn't won one for 20 odd years. They were pretty desperate to win one too. They're all a little bit different.
GS: Your brother, Scott, was only 16 when he played alongside you with the Demons in the 1987 premiership?
RH: To his credit it was a pretty ferocious and hostile environment, and for a 16-year-old kid to come into that and stand up, I'm a bit biased, but I believe he was really best on ground. He was a 16-year-old kid playing senior footy against Mitta in the Tallangatta League. What I've learnt about the Tallangatta League is that finals are hard to win, they don't just hand them to you on a platter.
GS: Who are some of the toughest opponents you've faced?
RH: When I was a young fella, lining-up on a fella by the name of Russell Ednie. Russell was pretty quick and a bit bigger than me and pretty aggressive, he was always a tough opponent. There was a fella from North Albury, Clinton Eckhardt. He was always a tough bloke to get a kick against.Peter Wilson at Albury was a real good player and always really hard to to get a kick against. In the Tallangatta League, Andy O'Connellfrom Mitta went out of his way to make my time very unpleasant, with plenty of encouragement from the bench. He was always a tough opponent.
GS: You were also a keen cricketer?
RH: I was a bit of a pie-chucker. I enjoy my cricket. I played for Paragon and was lucky enough to win a premiership with Paragon playing under Algy Arendarcikas, who was a legend in Albury-Wodonga in cricket circles. Cricket wasn't my real love, I only really got involved in it because my old man was the president of the cricket and one of the teams was short one day and they asked me to fill in. I ended up playing for six years.
GS: You wouldn't have had too many seasons away from football before this year would you?
RH: It's the first time I can remember and I started playing at six or seven years of age. My theory is that I've had a year off and it's freshened me up, so I should be able to go for another 10 years now. People ask me why I'm still doing it, playing football, and it's because I still love it. I still love going to footy training. Before a game I still get nervous. If I ever lose that I know I'm ready to give it away. But I don't want to be a liability either. That's why I still train hard so I can carry my own weight. There will always be a team out there that might need an old 58 or 59-year-old who would rather me play than forfeit. I'll never say never, that's for sure. I'll do what I've done for the last 40 years. I'll do a pre-season, see how the body feels, and if it feels ok and I've got no injuries, then I'll keep going.