There would be few people in the district - if any - that have played more football than John Teunon. After making his debut as a 17-year-old, Teunon was still running around for his beloved Mitta United as a 45-year-old in 2013 after winning his seventh senior flag the previous season. While the fitness fanatic played his last senior match in 2013 he has since had stints for Mitta, North Albury and Bright reserves. Teunon caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: You are well known for your nickname 'Fish'?
JOHN TEUNON: It's probably not the most creative nickname but with my surname sounding like tuna, people just started calling me 'Fish' and it stuck for whatever reason.
BG: You family relocated from Melbourne in 1980?
JT: My parents bought the Mitta store.
BG: I'm guessing you started playing for Mitta in the juniors?
JT: I played fourths and thirds and made my senior debut as a 17-year-old under John Smith.
BG: Have you got any favourite memories of your debut?
JT: Not really, it was that long ago. I remember I played on the wing and managed to get a few touches.
BG: You were part of a cunning stunt which involved John Smith's ute at the presentation night that year?
JT: John used to drive around in a Falcon ute similar to what Bob Hatfield had on A Country Practice.
BG: What have you done?
JT: Myself and another guy who I won't name, got some paint and wrote 'Wanden Valley Plumbing' on the side of his ute.
BG: Did you get pinged?
JT: It's funny, drink driving was a bit prevalent back in that era, so John drove home that night after a few drinks and didn't notice it until the next morning.
BG: Did he see the funny side of the prank?
JT: John made a few phone calls and it didn't take him long to find out who was responsible. He wasn't too happy initially but he had a bit of a laugh about it later on.
BG: You played in seven flags for the Mountain Men and were fortunate enough to play under some outstanding coaches including Smith, Geoff Lowcock, Hughie Giltrap, the late David Turner, Peter Copley and Phil Packer?
JT: They were all terrific coaches and Hughie especially led by example and was inspirational with some of his deeds on the field. Peter Copley, as most people would know, has got the gift of the gab. Copley was outstanding in getting the whole club involved and whether that be the supporters, reserves players or netballers, had an uncanny knack of bringing the club together as a tight-knit unit.
BG: I'm guessing you wouldn't have wanted to step out of line when Hughie was calling the shots?
JT: Hughie had an intimidating presence and I remember telling him when I was about 21 that the Ellis twins and I had booked a trip to Falls Creek for the week and wouldn't be able to train but we were right to play on the weekend.
BG: How did that go down?
JT: Hughie was fine about it. He just said we have got a big match next week against Tallangatta and whoever wins will be on top of the ladder so make sure you look after yourselves and are right to play on Saturday.
BG: Did you take his advice?
JT: We had a fairly big week on the drink because there were bands playing every night and there was plenty of nightlife that we didn't want to miss out on.
BG: Did you have a big Friday night?
JT: We had a couple of beers but thought we would do the right thing and we were in bed by around 10pm.
BG: That's fairly disciplined of you?
JT: We thought it was too and we were just about asleep and we heard a knock on the door. It was Glenn Barton and he said boys 'get up, there are some chicks down at the indoor swimming pool and they are skinny dipping.'
BG: I suppose there is no harm going for a look?
JT: That's what we thought, so we had a bit of a discussion and we couldn't help ourselves, so we got out of bed and on the way down to the pool we went to the community coolroom where guests kept their grog and grabbed a few drinks each and jumped in the pool.
BG: What time did you get to bed?
JT: The manager of the resort copped a few complaints that we were making too much noise and came down and kicked us out of the pool area. By the time we got to bed it was 3am and we all woke up with a filthy hangover and then had to head home to Mitta to play footy.
BG: No doubt you would have tried to steer clear of Hughie?
JT: We were getting changed and I could see Hughie looking at me but he didn't say anything.
BG: Did you end up winning?
JT: We got rolled by a couple of goals and Hughie ripped into us after the match for letting the side down and drinking on a Friday night.
BG: Did you tell him what happened?
JT: We went to the Mitta Pub after the match and once people found out what happened and that the girls were skinny dipping and were having a bit of a laugh about it. Even Hughie saw the funny side of it after a few beers.
BG: You played your first senior match for Mitta as a 17-year-old and your last at 45. How many matches do you think you have racked-up?
JT: I've got no idea because the club doesn't keep records. At a rough guess it would have to be a least 400 plus.
BG: You ripped your groin and were sidelined for almost two years?
JT: I ran in the Stawell Gift when I was 21, so over the pre-season I mainly focussed on my sprint training and not football training. With sprint training, you obviously mainly run in straight lines and don't do any of the twisting and turning associated with football. The first match of the season, I went to turn and ripped my groin off the bone.
BG: No doubt a painful injury?
JT: As I said, I hardly played for two seasons and it was probably five years before it was fully healed.
BG: You took your running seriously?
JT: I gave it two seasons and was coached by Chris Ryan and Paul Waite who played up at Mitta as well.
BG: Did you have any success at Stawell?
JT: Not really, I didn't do it long enough to get a handicap and ran off the novice mark. I came second last in my heat. But it was a bit of fun and I think it helped me with my football as well.
BG: You feel you played your best football after turning 30?
JT: I think I was a much better player in my 30s than 20s.
BG: You boast an enviable record and played in seven flags with Mitta in 1992, '96, four straight from 2004 and most recently in 2012 as a 44-year-old. Does any flag in particular stand out from the rest.
JT: I rate the 2012 flag highly against Thurgoona because it was one of the biggest comebacks I have been associated with in such a big match.
BG: Thurgoona looked unbeatable when it kicked 7.6 to 3.0 in the opening term to race out to what should have been a match-winning lead?
JT: We were fairly undisciplined in that opening quarter and got demolished and I thought at the time that the game had gotten away from us. But we kicked 15 goals to one after quarter-time which is a stunning turnaround.
BG: Phil Packer was coach. What was Packer like to play under?
JT: Phil was easily the lippiest coach that I played under and didn't mind sledging the opposition from the sideline, especially Thurgoona.
BG: It's fair to say that Phil despised Thurgoona at the time?
JT: I'm not sure what sparked it but that would be a fair comment. There's no doubt he let Thurgoona know they choked in that grand final.
BG: You could possibly hold the record for playing the most finals at Sandy Creek?
JT: A league historian emailed me recently and apparently it is either Lawrence Hodgkin or myself who has got the record.
BG: How many finals do you think you have played?
JT: It would have to be at least 50. I reckon I averaged playing in a grand final every second year that I was at Mitta because we lost a few and played in a few reserves grand finals early in my career and again late.
BG: There is a unique atmosphere playing at Sandy Creek?
JT: Each year I couldn't wait to get out there and play again. I remember if we hadn't won the flag the previous year, everyone was hellbent on trying to make amends.
BG: You had one season at Wodonga under coach Ernie Whitehead?
JT: When I was 26 I thought I would have a crack at playing the higher standard.
BG: You ended up playing in a flag in the reserves?
JT: I played mostly seniors but hurt my knee late in the season and played finals in the reserves.
BG: Wodonga and Wangaratta Rovers were the two powerhouses at the time?
JT: Wodonga boasted a lot of ex-AFL players. I was playing full-back until they recruited Neil Cordy from the Sydney Swans. There were the three Cordy brothers, Steve Murphy, 'Bear' Allen, 'Boxer' McGhee and good young blokes like Jason 'Sheepy' McInnes.
BG: You were a big fan of 'Sheepy'.
JT: 'Sheepy' was as good as a player I have seen for his age and he played a few practice matches for Essendon around that time. But it's probably no secret that he probably lacked a bit of discipline and didn't mind the grog and late nights.
BG: You played seniors at Mitta until you were 45 and then had three more years in the reserves. You also had two seasons for North Albury reserves after that?
JT: Jason Akermanis was coaching the seniors and Clint Gilson was his assistant. Clint asked me if I would be interested in coaching the thirds.
BG: You took the job?
JT: I had every intention of retiring from playing and Clint and I started doing triathlons to keep fit. Then I started doing the pre-season with the thirds and tried to lead by example. Anyhow the reserves were short in round two and I was asked to fill-in. I ended up playing reserves for the next two seasons.
BG: How old were you then?
JT: I started at North Albury when I was 49 and still playing when I was 50 and was easily the oldest bloke running around in the O&M.
BG: You were in charge of a pre-season camp at Mitta during your time at North Albury?
JT: Clint wanted me to organise something so I thought I would have a bit of fun with it. There is an old mine up at Mitta where you have to crawl through the opening before it opens up and you can walk. I decided to stitch the boys and had someone hiding in the mine wearing a bear suit which worked a treat.
BG: You also had another interesting game for the players?
JT: I organised oneof the locals, Peter Hodgkin, to shoot four rabbits so we could play rabbit relay where there were four teams and instead of passing the baton to your teammate, you have to pass the dead rabbit. The only problem was Peter only shot three rabbits and decided to improvise and found a dead snake on the road. So we ended up playing with three rabbits and a snake. Somebody put the photos on social media but we had to take them down after we received a few complaints.
BG: You finished your career at Bright reserves?
JT: 'Chuck' Hedley and Nick Conway were at Bright, so I played half a season in 2018 and a full season last year.
BG: What do you think is the secret to your longevity?
JT: When I was younger I looked up to blokes like Ross Hedley and Ross Hillary who were still playing decent football in their 40s. It just sort of stuck in my mind that I could do it as well if I looked after my body.
BG: Reno Zurek introduced you to boxing as a fitness tool?
JT: I used to work with Reno who was super-fit for his age. He used to own the boxing gym so I started doing a few classes during the week. I probably trained harder in my late 30s and 40s than I did earlier in my career but also a lot smarter with boxing and swimming which is less stress on the joints.
BG: Mitta boasts an enviable record in the league. What is the secret to their success?
JT: There is not much else in the town itself so everybody is passionate about their football on a weekend and really is the heart and soul of the town. The best way I can probably describe it is you go to war each Saturday and represent your town.
BG: The locals would let you know when you didn't perform to expectations?
JT: If you didn't play well, the locals would get into you at the pub that night.
BG: So there was motivation each week not to be the weak link in the chain?
JT: It was more or less an unwritten rule that when it's your turn to put your head over the ball, you go as hard as you can and try to inspire your teammates. I think that is what has held Mitta in such good stead over the last few decades.
BG: You would have seen some good fights at the local?
JT: More often than not you would see a fight of some description. But the next day the people involved would make up. The old blokes like Benny, Ron and 'Stumpy' Hodgkin would often be in the thick of it.
BG: John Smith used to promote a bit of wrestling at the pub back when he was coaching?
JT: I remember when it was getting close to closing time and everybody would go into the lounge and they would pull all the tables and chairs out and Johnny would pick out two guys to have a wrestling match. So we would be all standing around watching and there would end up being chairs and tables going everywhere.
BG: Did you ever have a crack at wrestling?
JT: A few times. I remember waking up the next day and you would be sore and have carpet burns all over your knees and elbows.
BG: Who did you consider Mitta's biggest rival throughout your career?
JT: Probably Kiewa-Sandy Creek and Tallangatta when I first started playing. Then Dederang had some good sides when Glenn Page, Darren Elliott and James and Paul Hodgkin were there. We had some cracking finals series against the Bombers.
BG: There was also a bitter rivalry between Mitta and Thurgoona late in your career.
JT: Thurgoona had emerged as a genuine contender but seemed to always choke in the big matches.
BG: There were some unsavoury incidents between the two clubs?
JT: I believe it was blown out of proportion, especially the Alex Beggs incident with Bryden Power. Beggs got cited and he wasn't considered a dirty player and what happened that day was out of character.
BG: It is fair to say Mitta were involved in several unsavoury behind the play incidents in grand finals during the 90s and early 2000s?
JT: The big difference back when I first started there was a lot of king hits and guys being taken out of the game because there was only one umpire and no send off rule. So when I first started playing it was a tough era of football.
BG: Was Mitta the worst offender?
JT: I think Kiewa-Sandy Creek wasjust as bad back then but Mitta did have a bad reputation through that era.
BG: You had your fair share of stoushes throughout your career?
JT: Playing centre half-back, I tried to lead by example. I remember wrestling with Barney Brown one day and he gave me a good one in the beak and said to me after the game 'you shouldn't push, you should just punch.'
BG: You also had a moment of madness and decided to go toe-to-toe with Ray Mack when he was coach of Thurgoona?
JT: I had a bit of fisticuff with Ray which was probably a dumb move by me considering I knew he could handle himself. I paid the price and he got me a good one and my jaw seemed to click for a few years after it.
BG: Did you land any punches on Ray?
JT: I think I got a couple in. The funny thing is that it was only a pre-season match at Martin Park in the old Sunicrust competition. I was walking off and Ernie Whitehead was there watching and said to me 'that wasn't a bad fight considering it's only the pre-season.'
BG: Were you ever reported?
JT: A couple of times early and a bit as well towards the end of my career, mainly for hip and shoulders.
BG: Old habits die hard?
JT: I used to pride myself on my hip and shoulders but then the rules changed and I found it hard to adjust. I probably got reported three times late in my career for still doing it.
BG: Who do you rate some of your toughest teammates?
JT: It's hard to go past Hughie. He used to spend most of his time in the ruck and by no means the biggest bloke running around in the league. But was still able to intimidate blokes who were a lot bigger and stronger than him. I remember he cleaned up both John Pumpa from Culcairn and Mauro Stefani from Dederang. Hughie had an uncanny knack of sorting blokes out with a knee in a ruck contest.