With his long blonde locks, Tony Heather looked more like a surfie than a footballer. But make no mistake, Heather could play. After more than 180 O&M matches with North Albury and Albury including finishing runner-up in the Tigers' best and fairest twice, Heather headed bush. A Barton medal as well as runner-up in the Azzi were just some of his highlights during his time at South Albury, Brocklesby, East Lavington and Howlong. Heather caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: You were born and raised in Holbrook?
TONY HEATHER: I played under-14's with Holbrook and then came into town to play for North Albury juniors.
BG: You made your senior debut for North Albury under coach Ralph Rogerson as a 17-year-old in 1968?
TH: It was against Benalla.
BG: You bobbed up with three goals before coming off at half-time with cramp?
TH: For whatever reason I always used to cramp up a lot and could never get through a full match.
BG: You stumbled across a unique remedy to fix the problem?
TH: I used to sprinkle sulfur powder in my footy boots and never had a problem after that.
BG: What was the theory?
TH: I've got no idea. An old mate from North Albury suggested I give it a go and it worked. I used to put it in my work boots as well.
BG: What position did you predominantly play during your time in the O&M?
TH: Mainly as a rover and resting on a forward flank or pocket.
BG: You also played under John Sharrock during your time at Bunton Park?
TH: John had an enormous influence on my career and I'm proud to say is still one of my closest mates to this day.
BG: Sharrock obviously played in a flag for Geelong. How did he perform in the O&M?
TH: John was a class above. I lost count of the amount of times he would spin on a bottle top without the opposition touching him and then slot a goal from outside 50m.
BG: It was tragic news when John lost his son Wayne to cancer in 2007?
TH: They are such a beautiful family and Wayne was only 40 when he passed away. I remember when Wayne made his senior debut for Albury against Myrtleford under coach Rod Coelli.
BG: You rate Coelli highly?
TH: Rod was just one of the champion players I was fortunate enough to play alongside.
BG: You played 49 matches with North Albury?
TH: The highlight was probably making finals in 1969 under Sharrock.
BG: You were forced to miss the finals in 1968?
TH: I got an accidental knock to the kidneys and was urinating blood so I had to have a rest. Fortunately there was no long-term damage.
BG: You played alongside some O&M legends at North Albury?
TH: I rate Stan Sargeant in the top handful of players that I saw during my time in the O&M. A champion player and could have played VFL/AFL without a doubt.
BG: Sergeant looked after you?
TH: I probably wasn't much over 70kg in my playing days and Stan would be the first in to fly the flag if I was targeted by the opposition.
BG: Sergeant was a prodigious kick of the football?
TH: Stan was the longest kick I've seen. Whether it was a booming torpedo or a drop-kick, he could kick the ball a mile.
BG: After three seasons and 49-matches at Bunton Park you decide to head over to Perth.
TH: I was only 21, just married and the wife and I wanted to see a bit of the countryside before having kids.
BG: You signed with West Perth?
TH: Bob Spargo was captain-coach of West Perth during the mid-60s and put in a few phone calls and that's how I ended up there.
BG: Your stint at West Perth was short-lived after you did your knee?
TH: I lasted three matches and busted my knee and needed to have an operation.
BG: You decided to return to the Border?
TH: I had the year off football in Perth and joined Albury the following season.
BG: Why Albury?
TH: Tim Robb was coaching Albury who I had played under previously at Bunton Park and was instrumental in luring me to the sportsground.
BG: Was money also a factor?
TH: Money was never a motivation for me to play football. I was paid $13 for my three years at Bunton Park.
BG: What about at Albury?
TH: David Dyan was president of Albury and was a solicitor. I was building a house so he did the conveyancing and didn't charge me. That was all I got for 120 matches at Albury.
BG: You had a witty comeback for supporters who wanted to have a go at you when the Tigers got beat?
TH: Supporters used to say 'you hardly got a kick today', so I would reply 'I don't have to play well because I don't get paid.'
BG: During your time at the sportsground you used to play football on the Saturday and rugby league the following day for Albury Roos.
TH: Both the Albury Roos seniors and reserves made the grand final one season I was there. I had to pull out of the seniors with injury but still played in the reserves.
BG: You scored the match-winning try?
TH: We were 10-6 down with a minute left and I crossed to level the scores. Ian Wornes made the conversion to hand us an unlikely victory.
BG: You kicked five goals for the O&M representative side against North Melbourne in a practice match?
TH: It was a huge thrill playing alongside some of the stars of the O&M against a VFL/AFL side.
BG: You played on North Melbourne premiership star Barry Cable?
TH: I was talking to Cable after the match and he was good enough to acknowledge to me that he thought that I had played well.
BG: You must have played better than that because North Melbourne coach Ron Barassi made inquiries about who you were?
TH: Apparently he did but once he found out that I was 27 he soon lost interest.
BG: Your brother, Russell, bumped into Cable 20-years later in Perth?
TH: They crossed paths and Cable said to my brother 'I know you, your Tony Heather.' Russell said 'you are not far off, that's my brother.' I thought my brother was joking when he told me but he reckons it's a true story.
BG: You were a big advocate of interleague football and represented the O&M and captained both the Tallangatta and Hume league sides?
TH: I just wanted to play at the highest level I could and test myself against the best players in the league.
BG: You also played under Tiger legend Jack Clancy during your time at the sportsground?
TH: Jack was a champion but I was lucky to play alongside quite a few at Albury. Rod Coelli, the Cross brothers, Tom Doolan and Jay McNeil were all champions in my eyes.
BG: You are well-known for your nickname Bear. But McNeil used to call you something else?
TH: Jay used to call me 'The Dude' and Tom Doolan 'The Buzzard.'
BG: You left the sportsground to coach South Albury in the Tallangatta league in 1978?
TH: I will never forget my initiation into the Tallangatta league when we played Tallangatta.
BG: What's happened?
TH: Barney Brown gave me one on the jaw in front of the Tallangatta bench and sat me on my ass much to the delight of their supporters. I remember the crowd taunting me and yelling out 'let's see how good you are now Heather.'
BG: You had the last laugh when you won the Barton medal that season?
TH: It was a huge thrill because I think the medal had only been renamed that season in honour of George Barton whose life was cut short by cancer when he was only 42. George's son who would have only been 10 at the time presented me with the medal which meant a helluva lot to me.
BG: You also finished runner-up in the Barton medal the following year?
TH: Allan Curtis won his second of three Barton medal's that season.
BG: You have since given your medal to your grandson Corby Robertson?
TH: Corby is showing some promising signs for Lavington juniors and I gave it to him. I was just hoping it would be something that he cherished and motivate him to be the best player he can be.
BG: Where did South Albury play its home matches?
TH: We trained at Noreuil Park and played our home matches at Albury Sportsground when they played away.
BG: Did Noreuil Park even have lights back then?
TH: We had a big light on a pole which we had to hook up for every training session and then take down again at the end.
BG: I'm guessing it would have been ordinary lighting?
TH: It only lit up a small portion of the ground so we could do a bit of ball work. When we were running laps and doing Indian file blokes would hide in the dark over the opposite side of the ground and I would have no idea. Barry Pendergast and Terry Leahy were the chief offenders.
BG: Barry Pendergast and John Steiber didn't mind having a few beers before matches?
TH: I found out after I finished coaching that they would quite often go to the Gloucester for three or four beers when we were playing home matches at Albury Sportsground.
BG: What was your reaction when you found out about it?
TH: It was disappointing to hear but they were both terrific players.
BG: In 1980 you joined Brocklesby as coach and led the Roos into the grand final?
TH: We played Walla who were the best side all year and beat us fairly easily. We probably lacked a full-forward while they had Garry Mickan who was probably the difference.
BG: Who were the stars for Brocklesby at the time?
TH: Greg and Ron Koschitzke, 'Mooka' Hall and Garry Drew.
BG: You only coached Brocklesby for one year before returning to the Albury Sportsground?
TH: Tom Doolan was coach and we made the grand final against Wodonga who were coached by Dave McLeish.
BG: You are a big fan of Doolan?
TH: Great coach, great man and a very successful businessman. I still have a lot to do with Tom and his family.
BG: McLeish was a star?
TH: Dave was certainly in the top handful of players in the competition at the time.
BG: Albury went into the decider as red-hot favourites?
TH: From memory we flogged Wodonga by around 14-goals in the second semi-final but they won the grand final by four goals.
BG: A stunning turnaround?
TH: I don't think we were complacent but I was a bit worried that complacency could creep in.
BG: How did Wodonga turn things around?
TH: To McLeish's credit he did his homework and changed a lot of his match-ups. Dave Turner who was only a teenager also bobbed-up with seven goals which really hurt.
BG: The following season in 1982 you joined East Lavington as coach for two seasons?
TH: It was a bit of an eye-opener for me. Don't get me wrong there were some fantastic people involved in the club but there were a handful of players and supporters whose behaviour certainly tarnished the club and gave the Saints a bad reputation.
BG: Were drugs involved?
TH: Without naming anybody I would often see players smoking hooch after matches as well as training.
BG: What about drinking alcohol on the way to matches?
TH: I'm not aware of any players who did that.
BG: You had to make some tough decisions at selection?
TH: We had some good players in the side but the bottom half-a-dozen players were simply average so quite often I would have to drop a few of them and then get the backlash from disgruntled parents.
BG: It wore you down in the end?
TH: I had one heated discussion with a parent late in my second year as coach which convinced me to move on.
BG: You decide to head back to Albury sportsground to coach the reserves?
TH: I coached the reserves for two years and we made the preliminary final one year.
BG: You then decide to head out to Howlong as coach?
TH: I coached Howlong for nothing.
BG: Nothing? Why didn't you get paid?
TH: A lot of players had left the club who we were trying to get back. I thought if I didn't get paid it would free up a bit of money for the club to try and attract the former players back.
BG: Peter Morris was president?
TH: As a president and a bloke, there is none better than Peter Morris.
BG: That's a big rap?
TH: Howlong was on its knees financially at the time. I know Peter and his father, Mick, chipped in $24,000 to keep the club afloat.
BG: Was the club close to folding?
TH: We just had a chronic player shortage and looked like we weren't going to get a side. Peter and his family came to the rescue and then the club had the necessary finances to attract some recruits.
BG: Most players were on $20 a win and $10 a loss that season.
TH: Peter and I both believed there was no future in forking out big bucks for recruits with the club is such a perilous position.
BG: How many matches did you win that season?
TH: We only won two. Peter joked to me that we should have paid the players $30 a win only so we could have saved a bit more cash.
BG: The wheel started to turn slowly?
TH: I remember Mick Paine took over as coach who helped attract a few more players and turn things around. The club then got Dennis Sandral as coach and Jeff Chandler who attracted more players and won the flag in 1997.
BG: How many matches did you play throughout your career?
TH: I know I played 170 O&M matches. Then probably more than 130 in the bush. So just over 300 at a guess.
BG: You won best and fairests at South Albury, Brocklesby and Howlong and finished runner-up at Albury twice. But the glaring deficiency on your CV is no flags?
TH: The only flag I have got was Albury Roos reserves which I only remember really because we won the match in the dying minutes. I am really envious when blokes tell me when they have got premiership reunions coming up because that's what you play football for - to win flags.
BG: You are a carpenter by trade but you had a stint at working at the Howlong pub.
TH: That was an experience I can tell you. It's no secret Howlong residents are a bit like a box of chocolates and you don't know what you are going to get next.
BG: The publican had a favourite trick for unsuspecting patrons?
TH: The publican drilled a hole in the seat and used to hook the gas bottle up to the hole and then turn the gas on to scare them which was fairly entertaining.
BG: That's gold. Have you got any more?
TH: One day a bloke rode his horse into the pub which was a bit strange. Another time somebody let off an acetylene bomb in the bar which blew everything off the shelves. That was dangerous because if somebody accidentally stood on it, it would have blown their foot off.
BG: You hardly drunk any alcohol until you turned 40?
TH: The players used to love me because I always was the designated driver.
BG: Any particular reason you didn't drink?
TH: It never really interested me. I could never understand how my teammates would come off the ground exhausted and then go upstairs and have 20 middies. I always used to have a couple of cokes and head home.
BG: Did you ever get reported?
TH: Once when I was playing for Brocklesby against Howlong for umpire abuse. The ball was in our goal square and the umpire paid a free against us so I let him have it. I couldn't shut my mouth and kept giving away 15m penalties until we were up the opposite end.
BG: You weren't happy?
TH: It gets better. Howlong kicked a goal so the ball came back to the centre and I kept giving it to the umpire so he gave them another free kick in the goal square.
BG: What happened next?
TH: I shut my mouth. I went to the tribunal during the week and got off with good behaviour.
BG: Who do you consider your home club?
TH: Both Albury and Brocklesby were terrific clubs.