Bill Peake is the first to admit he was fortunate to have such a successful career in football. The Chiltern great played in five premierships with the Swans, two before he was 18, and it could have been more. Peake lined up in 11 deciders and missed out on finals only once in more than 200 games at Chiltern and 100 matches with Wangaratta in the Ovens and Murray, where he played in one flag and three losing grand finals. He looked back on his journey with The Border Mail's BEAU GREENWAY this week.
BEAU GREENWAY: No doubt football was always a big part of your life growing up in Chiltern?
BILL PEAKE: Mum and dad used to have a farm in Chiltern Valley and they shifted up here to High Street. They were Chiltern fanatics because all my brothers played here and Chiltern were pretty powerful back then in the Chiltern and District league.
BG: So you were the youngest of the brothers?
BP: Yes. I used to be the mascot back in the 40s and early 50s. It was 1954 when they went into the Ovens and King.
BG: You were 17 when you played in Chiltern's 1957 flag?
BP: I played in premierships in 1957 and 1958 and I was 17 in both of them. I don't know why it was, the second one must have been earlier than the first one and it turned out I was 17 in both of them. I won the best and fairest in 1958 as well.
BG: That's a pretty handy start to the career. Could you believe it?
BP: I was lucky with all the success we had and it was probably down to the fact not many of the kids went away, they all stayed at Chiltern. In that team nearly all of them could have played Ovens and Murray football.
BG: You got to play with your three brothers in the flag?
BP: We all played in the first one back in 1957. It was a very special day for the family. I played on the half back flank, Alan played in the back pocket and I think Johnna and Frank were on the half forward flank and on the ball.
BG: You played under the great Greg Tate who had been a star during Essendon's Dick Reynolds-John Coleman era?
BP: He came in around 1955 or 1956 and coached the two premierships in 57 and 58. He coached until halfway through 1959 and then he got really sick and he couldn't coach and Donny Stephenson took over for the year.
BG: Would you rate Tate your best coach?
BP: He was well ahead of his time when he was coaching up here. He coached Rutherglen to a premiership in the Ovens and Murray in 1954 and that's the last one they won. He was working at the butter factory at Springhurst and I think my father got him up here to take on the shire secretary position and he ended up doing that for a few years. He took over at the footy club and I think he was the start of it being so successful.
BG: Was there anything in particular that stood out about him?
BP: He was a very good talker. He could give you a spray, but it didn't really sound like a spray. He was good with us younger ones and used to help us after training for half an hour or so and showed us different things.
BG: When did you decide to try your hand at Ovens and Murray level?
BP: I went to Wangaratta in 1961 and played just over 100 games. I wanted to come back to Chiltern after I'd played 100 games. Len Richards was playing at Wang and he coached Chiltern in 67 and 68. The year before (1960) I trained at the Rovers and I was on the bench for the first game, but I decided to come back to Chiltern. Norm Minns used to play for Chiltern and he ended up taking me to Wangaratta the next year.
BG: You won a premiership in your first year at Wangaratta, was it a bit of a step up?
BP: I was probably lucky really because on the day of the grand final, Rodney Swan played at centre-half back and done his ankle in the first five minutes. I had been struggling on the half forward flank all the time and I got put back to the back flank and played on the coach from Benalla, Vin Williams. I never looked back after that and I was always on the back flank after that. We won by 40 or 50 points. I don't know if we beat Benalla through the year or not because they were hot favourites. Wang was very strong back then with the likes of Ron McDonald and Bob Constable.
BG: You lost three straight grand finals with Wangaratta in 1964, 65 and 66?
BP: We lost twice to the Rovers and once to Albury. My last year at Wangaratta in 1967 we lost the first semi-final to Rovers. Ron Critchley was playing full-forward and kicked eight points that day. He was a good kick, but he didn't kick one all day and we lost by less than a goal.
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BG: Did you ever consider playing in the VFL?
BP: I trained with Essendon for a week or so, but I didn't like the city life so I came back. It was only for the love of the game back then, not like now where they get all the money and make a living out of it. Those days it was only the glory of playing in it I suppose. Greg Tate used to take us down to the football and watch Essendon play a bit. There would have been heaps of blokes good enough to go down there, but they didn't want to.
BG: You went back to Chiltern in 1968 and I believe there was a unique connection for a lot of the team?
BP: There were about 10 of us that lived on High Street. My wife Faye's three brothers (Kevin, Jock and John Lappin), Billy and Brian Cassidy lived next door, Garry Howes was down the road further, Robert Gray lived up the top end of High Street and there was Des Lappin and Pat Tognella that lived on the corner of High Street and Oxford Street.
BG: Did you enjoy being back at Chiltern? Do you think you came back a better player?
BP: I was getting a bit older and a bit smarter probably. I was playing in the centre a bit more when I came back. I dislocated my shoulder badly and missed the last four games in that first year back. I could have played the last one but my brothers and father didn't want me to because we had nothing to gain, so I stayed out an extra week and came back for the finals.
BG: Did you have a pretty good run with injuries over the years?
BP: It was probably the only major injury I really had. They couldn't get it back in so I had to go to Wang hospital and they put it back in then. I've never had any trouble with it since.
BG: You pipped Greta in the grand final who was going for four straight. It would have been the first club in league's history to do so?
BP: Greta had beaten us three times before that, twice in the home and away and in the second semi-final, but we got a lot of confidence out of the second semi because they didn't beat us by that much. The grand final we didn't even have a six-footer in our team. We used to have Pat Tognellaand he was about five foot 10 and a half and he used to do all the ruck work for us. We were only a mob of kids then apart from the coach, another fella in the back pocket and myself. The rest were only 21 or younger. 'Rowdy' (John Lappin) was only 16 or 17 then and he kicked four goals.
BG: Was it a tight game?
BP: We led nearly all day and I think the first time we were really convinced we could win it was straight after half-time. We got the ball out of the centre and I think it was Phillip O'Neill who kicked a goal from the centre. It went over the top of the pack and rolled through. We were confident we could win it from then on because I reckon that was the changing point in the game. He got the ball and kicked a drop kick and they were all leading for it, but it went over everyone's head and rolled 20 metres through for a goal. We probably should have beaten them by more than we did. We dominated but we just couldn't kick goals.
BG: Was there a bit of rivalry between the clubs?
BP: There was never much good feeling between Chiltern and Greta and I think it all started in 1954. Greta beat them in the grand final and the last quarter went for 45 minutes. It would have to be about the longest quarter of football and as soon as Greta hit the front, the siren went. The poor old timekeeper copped it a bit. I think they protested, but you couldn't do anything about it.
BG: Your next flag came against Milawa in 1971?
BP: They had all those blokes from the Rovers like Barry Cook, Merv Holmes, Gary Allen and Ross Gardner. They became superstars for the Rovers in their dynasty in the 1970s when they won all those premierships. I think we beat them every time during the year, but they were still pretty confident they could beat us in the grand final.
BG: You went back-to-back in 1972 against Beechworth and were denied the fairytale finish in your last game for Chiltern in the 1973 grand final against North Wangaratta?
BP: We'd had a pretty torrid year with injuries and North Wang were just too good for us.
BG: But it wasn't the end?
BP: I was going to retire, but Faye's brother, Jock, was coaching Brocklesby so I went out there with him. I broke my thumb in the preliminary final, so I missed the grand final. I went to tackle a fellow and I must have got my thumb caught in his jumper. I knew I was in trouble as soon as it happened because it went limp. I had to get it in plaster and I didn't play again after that.
BG: You mustn't have missed finals too much throughout?
BP: Nearly every year I played in finals, I only missed out in 1960. We missed out by a goal of getting in the top four. Even when I was at Wang we played finals every year. Some good players don't get the chance to play in one. They talk about Bobby Skilton and he was never lucky enough to play in a final.
BG: Did you stay involved in footy after that?
BP: I was tied up with Chiltern as a selector and my son, Craig, played here. I was alright doing what I was doing, but I don't think I would have handled the pressure of coaching. I'd help them anyway I could, but I wasn't interested in coaching. I had a year as president as well.
BG: Was it nice to see success continue for the family with Craig playing in three premierships in his 300 games for Chiltern?
BP: He started at Barnawartha because Chiltern didn't have any fourths to start with. As soon as he was old enough he came back to Chiltern. 'Rowdy' coached him in the thirds. He was pretty lucky as well because he played in three premierships as well.
BG: There's a connection to Brisbane great Nigel Lappin. Is he your nephew?
BP: Yes. They used to live over the road. Craig, Nathan and Nigel (nephews) all played in a grand final together in 1993 and they got beaten by Greta. That was before Nigel got drafted to Brisbane, so they were all kids when they played in the grand final. We were there when they (Brisbane) beat Essendon in 2001 and I barrack for Essendon.
BG: What does a typical Saturday look like now?
BP: The two granddaughters play netball, one is at Barny and one is at Chiltern. I generally go and watch them play and I often go back and check how the football is going. I don't really know any of the kids now, but once upon a time a lot of them lived in this street because people would get married and their sons would play and so on. They've had a really good start this year.
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