Greg Frank was in the twilight of his career and contemplating retirement when he first relocated to the Border in the late 80s. A star defender in the QAFL, a chance meeting with his former teammate and East Lavington coach Gary Paxton proved to be a coup for the Saints. Frank played in a flag for the Saints in 1988 and was widely regarded as the premier defender in the competition. The 62-year-old caught up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: You are well known for your nickname Franksie. But most people mistakenly think that your surname is Franks instead of Frank?
GREG FRANK: It irked me for most of my life when people called me Franks or spelt my name that way. But I sort of have half given up on correcting people now and just go along with it. Even some of my cousins refer to me as Franks which probably annoys me the most.
BG: You were born and bred in Finley and made your senior debut for the Cats?
GF: I played all my junior football for Finley before making my senior debut as a 17-year-old.
BG: You endured a sleepless night before your senior debut?
GF: 12 months previously, Finley's Neville Walsh made his debut against Deniliquin. He played on Ray Murphy and broke his leg. Anyhow I knew I would be playing on Murphy and I was a bit apprehensive in the lead-up that something similar would happen to me.
BG: Did you get through unscathed?
GF: It was tough footy back then in the 70s during that era. But I managed to get a few touches and walked off the ground in one piece.
BG: You played centre half-back for your entire career?
GF: I just thought it was easy, you only ever had to run in one direction.
BG: You attracted the attention of St Kilda talent scouts while still at school?
GF: My grandfather, Roland 'Kanga' Coombes, knew Allan Jeans which had a bit to do with me heading to Moorabin for a while.
BG: No doubt a daunting move for a teenager?
GF: It was, coming out of Finley with a population of 2000 to living in the city. A mate came down with me but it was still a scary experience and I couldn't handle it. I think I lasted about three months.
BG: Did you end up playing much senior footy for your home club?
GF: Probably only about two seasons and then I started to go off the rails a bit.
BG: Your mother thought it would be a good idea if you left town?
GF: I had a cousin who lived in Townsville and mum arranged for me to go and live with him for a while.
BG: Did you keep playing football?
GF: I played a lot of my football in Queensland for Windsor-Zillmere in the QAFL. My first season was 1979 and I probably played seven or eight years with the Eagles.
BG: How would you rate the standard at the time for people who are unfamiliar with the league?
GF: I would rate it to a similar standard to the Ovens and Murray.
BG: You were one of the star defenders of the competition?
GF: I got selected to play for Queensland which was a huge honour.
BG: Who did you play against?
GF: The highlight would have been playing at a packed GABBA against a Victorian seconds side. We got flogged but it was a great experience.
BG: Hawthorn showed interest in recruiting you as a 21-year-old?
GF: I received a telegram as you did back in those days from Allan Jeans and the next thing I was on the plane down to Melbourne.
BG: How did you go?
GF: I did a full pre-season and played a few of the early practice matches. But I found it hard because I was living in Hawthorn and had to leave at 5am every morning to get to work at Noble Park. Then I would come home and go to training and I was rarely getting home before 8.30pm most of the time.
BG: There was no such thing as full-time footballers back in that era?
GF: Personally I thought I went OK at training and in the practice matches. But I got sick of the long days so I packed my stuff and moved back to Queensland.
BG: How do you look back on your brief time at the elite level?
GF: It's hard to say because I never really fully committed to doing everything I could to play at the highest level. Could I have played VFL/AFL? Maybe. But I just wasn't prepared to do the work required. But I still enjoyed it and learnt a lot while I was there.
BG: You played on Jason Dunstall on several occasions?
GF: I had quite a few battles with Dunstall when I was playing in Queensland. Dunstall played for Coorparoo before he joined Hawthorn.
BG: How did you go against the triple Coleman medalist?
GF: I'm fairly proud to say I kept him quite every time I played on him.
BG: Dunstall paid you the ultimate compliment?
GF: I remember when I first moved to Albury late in 1987 I used to work for the Allen brothers driving bitumen sprayers. I used to drink at the Watersteets when 'Wrecka' Leahy was publican. I walked into the pub around 9pm one night after doing some overtime and I could sense a strange feeling that everyone was looking at me.
BG: Why's that?
GF: Jason Dunstall was on the panel on The Footy Show and someone asked him who he rated as some of the best key defenders he played on. Gary Tackle came up to me and said Dunstall had said 'I wouldn't have a clue where he is now but one bloke I always struggled against was Greg Frank.'
BG: You had to briefly give football away in 1987?
GF: My wife and I had twin girls that were born premature while we were still living in Queensland. We had no other family living in Queensland and the twins were more than a handful for the wife as you could imagine. So I gave football away for a couple of months to help her out until the girls were a bit older and settled.
BG: You still kept yourself fit during your time off?
GF: I had a couple of months off but kept training by myself. So I wasn't in too bad a nick when I went back playing.
BG: You had the unenviable task of playing on Mark 'Jacko' Jackson in your first match back after he played a one off match for Kedron?
GF: I think he got paid $2000 for playing but he drew a massive crowd and Kedron were raking in the cash and made more than $12,000.
BG: What was it like playing on 'Jacko'?
GF: The bloke is a nutter and I still regard it as the longest two hours of my life.
BG: I could imagine?
GF: 'Jacko' never stood still. One minute he would be shadow boxing in your face, the next he would jump on you and try to knock you out.
BG: How many did he kick?
GF: He ended up kicking four on me.
BG: You weren't happy that 'Jacko' played that match?
GF: One of our club legends 'Rocket' Lawrie was playing his 200th match milestone. But with 'Jacko' playing that day for the opposition, he sort of hogged the limelight and I didn't think 'Rocket' received the recognition he deserved.
BG: 'Jacko' was big news in the local paper the following day?
GF: One of the reporters asked 'Jacko' what he thought of my game. 'Jacko' said 'nothing special, considering it was his first game for a couple of months.' The reporter replied 'that was Frank's first match for a couple of months as well.' Jacko then replied 'My mistake, to be honest I thought I would have kicked a few more on him.'
BG: 'Jacko' towers above you in that photo clipping?
GF: 'Jacko' is a big unit and probably weighed nearly 20kg more than me at that stage.
BG: Were the crowd a fan of 'Jacko's'?
GF: The big fella did put on a show when the ball was up the other end. He sat on the fence talking to the spectators, took the goal umpire's hat off and was wearing it and took all his gear off and put it on inside out.
BG: 'Jacko' ended up getting reported?
GF: Apparently he was going to play a few more matches for Kedron but was suspended for unbecoming conduct after dropping his shorts several times during the match.
BG: You played in the losing grand final side against Southport that season who were coached by Norm Dare with Brownlow medalist Gary Dempsey one of their star recruits?
GF: It turned out to be a Bloodbath. We beat Southport in the second semi-final so they knew they had to try something different in the decider. Southport were the most despised side in the competition because they were cashed up and could afford players the calibre of Dempsey.
BG: How bad was the all-in-brawl?
GF: Just a lot of cuts, stitches, big eyes and sore jaws.
BG: You decided to relocate to the Border after the grand final?
GF: The ex wife has family here and we needed a bit of help with the kids when we needed a break. That was the main reason.
BG: You were going to hang up the boots?
GF: I had no intentions of playing, simply because I didn't know anyone. I went over to a pub in Wodonga and got a tap on the shoulder and I couldn't believe it, it was Gary Paxton.
BG: You knew Gary from Queensland?
GF: Gary was a former teammate and I had played against him as well in Queensland. He was coaching East Lavington at the time.
BG: No doubt he would have been keen to recruit you?
GF: As I said, I wasn't that keen on playing again. But once I found out East Lavington were the Saints that was the clincher because I always wanted to wear those colours.
BG: You wouldn't have known much about East Lavington other than they were the Saints?
GF: Not a thing.
BG: What were your first impressions of Urana Road Oval?
GF: I remember my first training run and we were doing a few stretches on the fence near the goals. A cop car drove past the ground and Ross 'Tosca' Hansen was yelling out abuse as they went by. I thought to myself 'what the hell is going on here?'
BG: It would have been an eye opener for you?
GF: It was at the time but I learnt later on that 'Tosca' and the cops didn't see eye to eye but that's none of my business.
BG: Could you sense there was a stigma attached to the club when you first arrived?
GF: I wasn't sure what it was but the opposition seemed to yell out 'you dirty bastards' quite often.
BG: Was that a fair assessment?
GF: I don't think it was the players that gave the club a bad name, more so a handful of the supporters who probably crossed the line with some of the things that they would yell out.
BG: Have you got any specific examples on how some supporters 'crossed the line'?
GF: I'll be the first to admit some of the language the supporters used to yell out at the top of their voices was disgusting. Even us players would tell them to shut-up because you can't carry on like that in front of families. A couple of bad eggs did give the club a bad reputation.
BG: So you don't think any of your teammates were 'dirty bastards'?
GF: I was brought up that once you crossed that white line, you played hard. That's all my teammates did - they played hard.
BG: The opposition despised that?
GF: They did because we were relentless. The blokes playing at the time would probably be the first to admit they weren't the most gifted footballers running around. To compensate for that, they just played hard, tough footy. I wouldn't label them 'dirty bastards,' they just wanted to get their hands on the pill.
BG: So you didn't see any unsavoury incidents by East Lavington players in your five years at the club?
GF: If you mean any dog acts, I saw none. As I said they were just hard and the opposition didn't like it.
BG: Would it be fair to say that East Lavington was despised by rival clubs?
GF: Everybody hated East Lavington. There were a few issues with a few of the players and what they were allegedly involved in off the field. Yes some of the players were linked to drugs. But as I said, what they did in their time is their business. It's no different to a lot of the clubs these days.
BG: You cherished your time at Urana Road Oval?
GF: The club was like family to me. The wife and I felt welcomed and they were a great family club.
BG: You had a forgettable debut for the Saints?
GF: We were playing Jindera and I got accidentally kicked in the head by Marco Zago which split me fairly badly. The problem was Marco was a teammate.
BG: You enjoyed the ultimate success and won a flag in your first season with the Saints?
GF: We beat Walbundrie who returned the favour the following year. The victory was against the odds a bit because we lost our coach Gary Paxton during the season with a knee and he was one of our best players.
BG: Paxton had speed to burn?
GF: He would have to be one of the quickest players I have seen.
BG: Mark Aalbers got split badly in the opening minutes of the decider?
GF: He copped a kick in the head and it made a bit of a mess of him.
BG: What are your memories of the decider?
GF: It was a struggle all day but it was fantastic to enjoy the ultimate success with a great bunch of blokes. More than 90 per cent of the side were locals and really deserved the success.
BG: There were rumours that some players used to drink a few stubbies on the way out to away matches. Did you ever witness that occurring?
GF: Yes, I've heard the rumours but did I witness it? No I didn't. Personally I think you have got a problem if you have to drink on the way to matches.
BG: So you never drank on the way out to matches?
GF: I did once. I had been retired for 18 months and was having a few beers at the Waterstreet one Saturday morning and Merv Brown called me and said the Saints' seconds were short and asked if I could fill in.
BG: You answered the SOS call?
GF: I had a few beers but I thought it wouldn't hurt to have a run around in the twos out at Walla. When I got there it was like Merv had got the band back. There were a few of us old boys like Howard Theiss and Steve Steele.
BG: Did you get a kick?
GF: I dominated for the first ten minutes and then I ran out of puff and hardly touched it again.
BG: After playing in successive grand finals in 1988-89, the club started to struggle?
GF: After 1989 it was hard to keep blokes because they went off chasing money at other clubs. Personally, I don't think they were worth the money they were chasing but there are a lot of players in that category.
BG: Were you surprised when East Lavington initially folded in 1996?
GF: No I wasn't and the writing was on the wall for quite a few years. You have to have healthy numbers to fill seniors and reserves and then your juniors. I reckon they would have been lucky to have 25 senior and reserves players the year they folded.
BG: What led to the chronic player shortage?
GF: There weren't enough volunteers on the committee to do the work involved.
BG: It was a sad day East Lavington folded?
GF: It broke my heart because it shouldn't have happened. A lot of people involved didn't want to do the work necessary but were happy to give advice but weren't prepared to roll up the sleeves and pitch in.
BG: There were some quality forwards running around in the Hume league during that era. Was there a standout that you used to find it hard to match-up on.
GF: Daryl Jordan could be a handful at times. But I always showed my opponents respect and thought if they are good enough to be playing senior football you are not going to play on mugs. I rated Geoff Boyle highly as well when he was at Jindera.