It's fair to say GARY ZIEBELL has had more clubs than a golfer and has his fair share of stories after a playing career spanning more than two decades. The likeable larrikin caught-up with The Border Mail's BRENT GODDE.
BRENT GODDE: You played your junior football for Wodonga?
GARY ZIEBELL: I was at Wodonga until I was 15 but then I got an apprenticeship and relocated to Melbourne.
BG: After completing your apprenticeship you moved back to the Border and joined Bethanga?
GZ: One of my school mates Scott Harris was living at Bethanga so I decided to go out there for a look.
BG: You made your senior debut for the Saints under coach Geoff Lowcock?
GZ: I was 17 and I kicked five goals against Mitta which I was fairly pumped with at the time.
BG: You copped some ordinary conditions against Holbrook one day?
GZ: It was freezing and hailing so somebody went and bought two bottles of Stone's ginger wine to warm us up at half-time.
BG: A common practice back in that era but does it work?
GZ: I never got to find out. We got into the rooms at half-time and we found our trainer 'Tiger' passed out in the change rooms. Turns out 'Tiger' had dropped both bottles which had put him to sleep. He had a bit of a drinking problem so it wasn't a huge surprise at the time.
BG: You got knocked out one day against Barnawartha?
GZ: An opposition player went for the ball and I lined him up from one side and our ruckman Stewie Wood from the other side. The only problem was the Barnawartha player pulled out at the last minute and Stewie ended up knocking me out.
BG: There was no concussion rule back then?
GZ: I jumped straight back up, pretending it didn't hurt. I started running and fell over the fence because I was in Disneyland.
BG: You still played the second-half?
GZ: I came out after half-time and I couldn't even remember which way we were kicking but that's what you did back then.
BG: You also played under Alan 'Bongo' Bongetti?
GZ: I spent four or five years at Bethanga and then I went to Queensland to play over the summer.
BG: You then joined Tooronga Malvern in the South East Suburban football league?
GZ: David Craig was coach and we were undefeated heading into the finals. But we got bundled out in straight sets.
BG: You had the chance to be a hero in the second final?
GZ: I grabbed the ball in the dying seconds and ran into an open goal. I got tackled just as I was about to kick the ball and it slammed into the goal post and then the final siren sounded. We lost by a point. It wasn't my finest moment.
BG: You returned to Bethanga after one season down in Melbourne?
GZ: I had one more season with the Saints before I thought I would try and have a crack at the O&M.
BG: You decide to join Lavington. Any particular reason?
GZ: I was good mates with Brett 'Bear' Allen who was at Wodonga but I also knew a few of the Lavington players including Ray Mack.
BG: The Lavington players made you an offer you couldn't refuse?
GZ: I was umming and ahhing about who to play for before the Lavington boys told me they were planning to go to Bali for their end of season trip. I couldn't sign up quick enough.
BG: You couldn't crack it for a senior match in your two seasons at Lavington Oval after suffering some bad injuries?
GZ: The first year I broke my arm and the second year I broke my leg during the pre-season. I was also doing shift work and had two little kids and couldn't train much.
BG: How did you break your leg?
GZ: It was against Albury. An opposition player was running past and I stuck my leg out and I heard a sickening noise like a whip cracking. I remember looking up at the crowd and seeing the look of horror on their faces.
BG: Obviously a serious injury. Did it affect the rest of your playing career?
GZ: I came back late in the season and broke my leg again. So that slowed me down a bit and I started to put a bit of weight on. I went from an 85kg athletic key position player to a 100kg lumbering ruckman.
BG: So I'm guessing the highlight of your time at Lavington was the trip away to Bali?
GZ: It definitely was a memorable experience. I think Ray Mack got the three votes, followed by Peter Copley with two votes that year.
BG: How long did you go for?
GZ: It was seven days. I remember coming home on the bus from Melbourne airport and nobody spoke on the whole trip home. We were all partied out and sick of the sight of each other.
BG: Both Ray and yourself have a reputation for being able to handle yourselves on the field. But who would win if you ever went toe-to-toe?
GZ: I probably don't like to admit it but Ray would probably have my measure because he has a better technique.
BG: You did have a bit of a stoush one day when you were at Kiewa-Sandy Creek and Ray was at Holbrook?
GZ: It was a boggy ground and I cleaned Ray up with a hip and shoulder which I will admit was a fraction late.
BG: Did you rattle his cage?
GZ: I knew Ray wasn't happy so I didn't hang around to find out. So I took off and he chased me and got me a fairly good one with a bit of a round arm. We were wrestling on the ground and Copley was there watching and the umpire ran in. Copley says to the umpire 'don't worry, they are only mucking around.'
BG: You wore a few?
GZ: I copped at least one good one on the beak which rattled me a bit. Not long after Chris Sedgwick got a free kick and I was on the mark.Chris kicked the waterlogged footy straight into my nose. It was a bad day at the office for me.
BG: Ray gave you some valuable advice while you were at Lavington in regards to fighting?
GZ: I remember he told me 'always shop early.'
BG: You had to sort Mark McSweeney out one night at the Lavington Sports Club?
GZ: I had played against Mark and I regarded him as a dirty little p***k who always had the bumper bars (elbows) up. But he could play.
BG: What did he do?
GZ: One night at the club Mark had a go at a couple of the Lavington reserves players and ended up smacking one of them in the mouth.
BG: How did you become involved?
GZ: The Lavington boys told me what happened so I went over and confronted him.
BG: What happened next?
GZ: McSweeney tried to land a dirty big head butt on me. So I just opened up and let him have it.
BG: Sounds like McSweeney may have bit off more than he could chew?
GZ: McSweeney got kicked out but I stayed.
BG: Have you crossed paths with McSweeney since?
GZ: You wouldn't believe it but a couple of days later I was driving back to Albury and I saw a bloke hitch-hiking so I pulled over. I couldn't believe my eyes when McSweeney jumped in my car. I think he got a bit of a shock as well when he realised it was me.
BG: Don't tell me you gave him another flogging?
GZ: McSweeney looked at me and said 'this is a bit awkward Zieb's' and we both had a bit of a chuckle. The funny thing is we get along well now and are good mates.
BG: You joined Kiewa-Sandy Creek after you left Lavington?
GZ: I bought a house out there. I was going to go to Bethanga because they had just signed Allan Curtis and then Peter Cross. But I thought to myself you can't live in a town and play against them.
BG: The Hawks were a powerhouse during that era?
GZ: They were but the first season I played there, they missed finals for the first time in 20-years.
BG: You spent five seasons with the Hawks?
GZ: I played in the losing grand final in 1994 against Tallangatta. We were coached by Doug Norton-Smith and Geoff Jackson was coach of the Hoppers. I played alongside Geoff Jackson when I was at Tooronga Malvern.
BG: You contemplated retirement after the grand final?
GZ: I was 32, did my groin that season and was flat out with work.
BG: Instead, you head up the hills and join Border-Walwa?
GZ: I hadn't won a flag and Border-Walwa seemed to almost win the flag every year up there. So I thought I might go up there for a season and try to retire on the ultimate high.
BG: Who was coaching the Magpies?
GZ: Simon Hoare was coach and I used to play with Robert Newnham at Bethanga who is a legend for the Magpies.
BG: What were you first impressions of the Upper Murray?
GZ: I remember we played Tumbarumba and they had an indigenous player who was carrying a bit and his jumper was about three sizes too small so his gut was hanging out. Anyhow he was running with the ball, tripped over, fell on his gut, did a somersault and landed on his feet.
BG: One of the funniest incidents you have seen?
GZ: I was roaring with laughter and my opponent said 'shut-up mate, it's not funny, I have to put up with this every week.'
BG: Was there anyone stupid enough in the Upper Murray to tangle with you?
GZ: I didn't have much trouble up there.
BG: Did you finally get an elusive flag?
GZ: We lost the grand final to Corryong.
BG: You hate Corryong?
GZ: I won't name the bloke but Jack was playing in the fourths up there and was doing the scoreboard for the seniors and copped a bit of abuse.
BG: What happened?
GZ: I was playing in the preliminary final and Corryong had the week off and were on the cans watching. The Corryong blokes didn't know who Jack was but made some derogatory comments to him about his mother that I will leave up to the imagination.
BG: No doubt upsetting for a 10-year-old kid?
GZ: After we won, I was in the change rooms and Jack came up to me and said 'dad those blokes were making rude comments about mum' and pointed them out to me.
BG: I'm guessing you were fuming. How did you react?
GZ: I stormed out of the change rooms and grabbed one bloke by the throat and the rest took off.
BG: Ray Mack was coaching Corryong?
GZ: Ray found out during the week what they had done and rang me to apologise. I told Ray if I see the bloke responsible for upsetting Jack, 'I will kill him.'
BG: Did the player responsible play in the grand final?
GZ: He did but he played fairly wide and lucky there was a fence so he knew when to stop running. So we didn't really cross paths but I've never forgotten it.
BG: Were there any fireworks in the grand final?
GZ: I got injured late so I went down to full-forward. I led for the ball and it went over my head and my opponent marked it. Then he waved the ball in my face, so I slotted him because there was only two minutes left and we couldn't win.
BG: Did you get reported?
GZ: All the Corryong boys ran in to remonstrate with me and were shouting 'send him off, send him off.' But one of my old Bethanga teammates Mick Maloney was umpire and said 'take your kick, there wasn't much in it.'
BG: So you got away with it?
GZ: Not exactly, one of the other Corryong players had a bit too much to say so I ended up giving him one in front of Mick. Mick looked at me and said 'Gary, I'm going to have to send you off now.' I said 'sorry Mick.'
BG: You also blame Ray for you getting reported one day against Corryong when you were at Border-Walwa?
GZ: I found out Ray went up to the umpire before the match and said 'keep an eye on that Gary Ziebell, he's a dirty p***k.'
BG: You got cleaned by one of the young Corryong players?
GZ: He cleaned me up late and then gave me one while I was down. So I jumped up and gave him one and the umpire saw it. Then I heard Ray yelling to the umpire 'I warned you about him, send him off.' Not only did he send me off, I got two weeks at the tribunal as well. I was filthy on Ray about that one.
BG: You couldn't make the tribunal so you had to give evidence via a phone hook up?
GZ: I forgot about the tribunal and I was at the Crown Casino playing blackjack when they rang for me to give evidence.
BG: So you weren't too worried about the whole saga?
GZ: Not really, at the time I was more worried about getting blackjack then missing a couple of weeks.
BG: You were playing for Howlong when Dennis Sandral ran through Ray who was playing for Walla during a final?
GZ: It was a sweet hip and shoulder and Ray's head hit the ground that hard, he got a free trip to Disneyland.
BG: Sandral was carrying broken ribs from the previous week?
GZ: Dennis broke four ribs the week before in the first final and couldn't even speak to us at half-time because of the pain. Incredibly, he went forward in the second half and kicked five goals and won the match for us. No doubt Dennis is one of the toughest players I've seen.
BG: Then Dennis cleaned Ray up the next week. That's a fair effort?
GZ: It's funny, while Ray was lying on the ground I couldn't resist taking a cheap shot and ran over and said to him 'you just got cleaned up by a bloke with four broken ribs.'
BG: Ray was heavily concussed and had to go to the bench for a while?
GZ: He did for a bit of a breather. When he came back on he had smoke coming out of his ears, frothing at the mouth, his eyes rolling around in his head and looking for revenge.
BG: Ray went straight into the ruck to cause some carnage?
GZ: Shane Tanner was our ruckman who I used to swap with. As soon as Ray came back on, Tanner yelled out to me, 'Zeib's, I need a spell, you go into the ruck.'
BG: Smart darts by Tanner. Did you swap?
GZ: Reluctantly I did and Ray was like a raging bull. I said 'settle down big fella' and Ray just stared at me.
BG: You also had one season at Barnawartha under 'Bear' Allen.
GZ: 'Bear' landed a few recruits in Mick Garvey, Geoff Jones and Dick Grimmond so we had the nucleus of a handy side. But the locals just didn't seem interested in getting the best out of themselves that season. The committee was great with blokes like Dougie Wellington.
BG: The following year 'Bear' and yourself committed to a pre-season with Wodonga?
GZ: We put in all the work and got ourselves really fit under coach Darren Denmeman. We played a couple of practice matches and I was keen to play the season at Martin Park.
BG: What happened?
GZ: I got a call from Howlong on the eve of the season and I didn't see any harm in having a chat.
BG: How did the Spiders convince you to sign?
GZ: I was hungry for a flag and their selling point was that they finished runner-up the previous year and just needed a back-up ruckman to help out Shane Tanner.
BG: Dennis Sandral clinched the deal?
GZ: I looked Dennis in the eye and said 'do you think you will win the flag?' Dennis looked back at me with his mad dog stare and said 'I think we will.' That was enough for me to sign.
BG: Did you know Dennis personally before you signed with Howlong?
GZ: Not really, I just knew he had an outstanding career in the O&M.
BG: How did you rate the O&M Hall of Famer as a coach?
GZ: Dennis was fantastic and led by example. A man of few words and he wasn't big on following a process. It was more like follow me boys. And everybody did because he commanded respect.
BG: The Spiders boasted a star-studded line-up in 1997?
GZ: Obviously Dennis, his brother Jimmy won the Azzi, Jeff Chandler, Paul Baker, Shane Tanner and Glenn Cannon could all play a bit.
BG: Ben Cain was also in the side?
GZ: Benny is a much maligned player in my opinion. He is a really skilful player but has the reputation of being a loose cannon.
BG: Did Dennis address his discipline issues?
GZ: Dennis was one of the few blokes that could control him. I lost count the amount of times Dennis used to shout out on the ground 'settle down Benny.'
BG: What were your first impressions of Ben?
GZ: I went out to watch a practice match after I first signed with Howlong. There was this bloke running around smacking blokes and if anyone touched him, he would turn around and have a go at them. I asked somebody 'who's that bloke?' and they said 'it's bloody Benny Cain.'
BG: Old habits die hard and Ben got sent off in the grand final that year against Osborne?
GZ: I remember we ran out onto the ground and Ben got himself in a fight with an Osborne player before the first bounce and got sent off for 10 minutes. It's fair to say Dennis had steam coming out of his ears.
BG: There was no shortage of drama in the decider after Shane Tanner broke his leg in the opening minutes?
GZ: It's funny, Shane gave me the signal to swap after only a couple of minutes. I thought to myself 'what's wrong with this lazy p***k.' Little did I know he had broken his leg at the time.
BG: You basically had to carry the ruck load for the whole match?
GZ: I had to ruck the whole of the first quarter against Matt Gleeson and I was blowing more than Puffing Billy trying to keep up with him while Tanner was sitting on the bench. I said to him at quarter time 'a chop out would have been nice' and he replied 'I've broken my leg.'
BG: Tanner still went back on in the last quarter?
GZ: Shane had to sit in the forward pocket because Glenn Cannon broke his leg badly and Nigel Lavis got a punctured lung.
BG: After two seasons at Howlong, you join 'Bear' Allen at Burrumbuttock after he got the coaching gig?
GZ: I was going to retire but they were throwing a heap of cash around and I had a young family so I thought I would go again.
BG: You loved your time at the club?
GZ: It was a fantastic club and the committee and supporters were a great bunch of people.
BG: The following season Bernard 'Huck' Toohey also came out for a run?
GZ: Bear and I played water polo with him. One night we were all on the drink and we asked 'Huck' if he wanted to come out. We were as surprised as anyone when he said yes.
BG: You rate 'Huck' as one of your toughest teammates?
GZ: I remember against Osborne 'Huck' and Stephen Clarke were smashing into each other all day. There were some massive hits and neither would take a backward step. 'Huck' got cleaned up at one stage and got straight back up and said 'you won't hurt me Clarkey.'
BG: 'Bear' used to decide who would ruck out of you and him on a Thursday night, depending on the opposition?
GZ: It's funny, if 'Bear' rated the opposition ruckman I would have to ruck otherwise he would.
BG: 'Bear' got a shock one day rucking against Brocklesby?
GZ: 'Bear' did his homework and found out Brocklesby's ruckman was a 14-year-old kid so he put his hand up to ruck for the day. The first bounce the kid knees 'Bear' in the head and had one of the biggest leaps I've ever seen. Straight away 'Bear' yells out to me to swap.
BG: It's no good for the ego to get beaten by a 14-year-old kid?
GZ: Turns out it was Justin Koschitzke. I should have taken out a wire brush with me to clean the bottom of his boots, he could jump that much.
BG: Koschitzke still remembers that day?
GZ: Apparently he told James Brayshaw on The Footy Show he played on Jack's old man one day and that he was 'a hard old bastard.'
BG: You had your last hurrah in the Upper Murray where the dinosaurs go to die?
GZ: My last match was for Border-Walwa in the losing grand final against Corryong as a 40-year-old.
BG: How many times did you get reported?
GZ: Before the send off rule was introduced I don't think I ever got reported. Every club had one or two players that used to fly the flag and I guess I took the responsibility of doing that.
BG: After the send off rule was introduced?
GZ: Only a couple of times and that was only because somebody from the opposition was targeting our younger players so I would pull them into line. I'll always maintain I never hit a bloke who didn't deserve it.
BG: You are obviously a big unit but did you go out of your way to intimidate opponents?
GZ: Not really but if an opponent went looking for trouble I would like to think I would be able to accommodate him.
BG: At a rough count you played at 10 different clubs. Do you know anybody who has played at more?
GZ: Probably only Ray Mack and he got paid a lot more than me.
BG: Who would you consider your home club?
GZ: Probably Bethanga just ahead of Kiewa-Sandy Creek because I spent around five seasons with both clubs.
BG: Obviously your son Jack has enjoyed an outstanding AFL career to date. As a kid did you always feel he was destined to play at the highest level?
GZ: Jack was always skilled and tough which caught the attention of talent scouts. He will be the first to admit he is not the most talented player but has worked hard to get the best out of himself.
BG: Have you got a favourite memory of Jack before he got drafted?
GZ: Jack holds the record for being the youngest player to make their debut for Wodonga. I remember he kicked five in a final against Yarrawonga that year which was a fair effort for a 15-year-old.
BG: You gave Jack some sound advice after that performance?
GZ: I remember the following week Wodonga were playing Wangaratta in a final at Albury sportsground and we were driving to the ground.
BG: What did you say to Jack?
GZ: I said son because you kicked five goals last week you have put a target on your back and the opposition will try and intimidate you. If you show any sign of weakness, you will cop it all day. Make sure you stand up for yourself.
BG: Did Jack listen to you?
GZ: It's funny, Jon Henry played on Jack and started niggling him straight away. There was a bit of push and shove before Jack belted him. I thought to myself 'what I have created here?'
BG: Playing at the elite level hasn't gone to Jack's head?
GZ: I'm proud of his career but what I'm probably most proud of is the young man he has turned out to be. As much as he is a good footballer, he doesn't think he is better than anyone else and is humble about his achievements.
BG: Can you see Jack playing on the Border when he retires from the AFL?
GZ: Definitely, Jack often speaks about coming back to play for Wodonga. But that will be determined by what career path he takes and whether he remains in Melbourne or relocates back to the Border. He is a country boy at heart.