Bendigo legends by Richard Jones

BFNLLogo1The fifth Bendigo Football and Netball League Hall of Fame induction evening was held late last year and what a gala night it turned out to be. The league’s very first group of Legends, five in all, were named to great applause and affirmation at the All Seasons function.

In no particular order they are Reg Ford (Sandhurst, Golden Square), Alan McDonald (South Bendigo), Ron Best (Golden Square, Sandhurst, Northern United), Tony Southcombe (Golden Square, Northern United) and Bob McCaskill (Sandhurst). They’re all members of the early BFNL Halls of Fame, of course, which kicked off in 1986 with the second group named in 1996.

There’s now 62 people in the BFNL Hall of Fame.

Here’s a look at the first five Legends.

Reg Ford holds the BFNL record as the greatest senior premiership-winning player, playing coach or coach in the league’s history. He either played in or coached 13 flag-winning sides: an outstanding record which will probably never be equalled, let alone surpassed. Recruited from the Goulburn Valley area by Sandhurst Reg played in all six of Bob McCaskill’s premiership winning sides from 1929 to 1934. And although the Hurst lost the 1935 and 1936 big dances to Eaglehawk and Kyneton respectively Reg was coach during the Thirties of five flag-winning Sandhurst reserves sides. He’d played in the Hurst’s victorious 1937 senior side but by 1938 and, still in his 20s, Reg switched to Golden Square as senior coach. In just their fourth season Ford took the Square to their foundation 1938 flag, toasting success over Ford’s old mentor McCaskill who was still in charge at Sandhurst.

The Square won again in 1939, making it a double, but with World War 2 on the horizon Reg signed up and was away on military service from Bendigo football for four-and-a-half year. However, by 1945 he was stationed at Murchison as an Army guard at a foreign internment camp. Golden Square sent a car up to Murchison each Saturday to collect Ford and he played in the club’s 1945 premiership-winning side under then coach Bonnie Hargreaves. Discharged from the Army by 1946 Reg had returned to Sandhurst and took the Maroons to a trio of senior flags: 1947-48-49. A utility key position player Reg could play at full-back, in the centre or at full-forward with his one-on-one contests with Eaglehawk star Eddie ‘Moots’ Esposito a feature of every season in which they played. Reg’s playing days came to a halt in 1949 when he was 39. Three sets of broken ribs sustained during his playing days had led to serious asthma problems.

Ron Best is the greatest full-forward and goalkicker in BFNL history. He nailed a total of 1624 majors, including bags of 10 goals or more no less than 48 times, during his stellar career. That 48-game tally where he kicked double figures comes to a staggering 556 majors. Ron kicked 10-plus majors 29 times at Golden Square, 12 at Sandhurst, and then seven more times at Northern United.

His biggest individual haul was 16 majors (against Kyneton in Round 20 of 1969), but he also snagged double figure totals on 10 more occasions. Ron’s most prolific season was 1980 when he speared home 161 goals for the Square, including eight games of 10-plus. He nailed 15 goals twice during his career, 14 goals six times and 13 twice also. As well Ron was a premiership-winning coach. In 1973 he became the BFL’s youngest-ever flag-winning mentor when, aged 23, he guided Sandhurst to their first premiership since 1949: Ron’s birth year. The Hurst accounted for his old club Golden Square, which he’d left in 1971, by 46 points in a stirring victory. Another flag came Sandhurst’s and Ron’s way in 1977 before he returned to the Square for the 1978 season and continued on as the Bulldogs’ premiership coach in 1979.

His stunning resume includes his very first match – his debut – and the very last game of his career where he landed double figure totals. As an 18-year-old in 1968 Ron nailed 14 goals for the Bulldogs (14.9 to be precise) in his debut and then in his swansong match Ron booted 11 goals as Northern United won the 1984 grand final against Eaglehawk. A season earlier – in 1983 – Besty had slotted his 12th 100-goal haul in the BFL to finish on 124 majors in his penultimate season. He played a handful of practice matches with Geelong, but never a full season VFL match.

Bob ‘The Prince of Coaches’ McCaskill set a BFL record which has never been broken.

He captain-coached Sandhurst to six, consecutive premierships from 1929 to 1934, before adding two more flags to the Hurst’s collection with further successes in 1937 and 1940. That run of half-a-dozen straight flags set not only a Bendigo benchmark, but also a record for the inter-war period for any Victorian major league. Richmond had recruited Bob from the Shepparton district but when he come to central Victoria to serve as the YMCA secretary he decided to sign on with the then lowest-rating Bendigo-based BFL club. And so in 1926 Bob decided he’d pull on the Sandhurst guernsey.

The club hadn’t contested the finals the previous year, but there was to be a one-season hiccup. Richmond hadn’t officially cleared him so for the ’26 season Bob was Hurst’s non-playing coach. Eventually sanity prevailed and Bob’s stellar coaching career kicked off. Following Echuca’s 1928 BFL grand final win centreman Bob McCaskill and his Hurst charges took complete control of the BFL.

The only club to come close to the mighty Sandhurst grand final machine during that six-year run was South Bendigo in 1931. The Bloods went down by two goals: 10.14 (74) to 8.14 (62). The formidable Sandhurst side crushed Maryborough by 117 points in the 1933 play-off and then for their sixth, straight victory Bob’s machine triumphed over Castlemaine by 31 points in 1934.

Bob McCaskill demanded loyalty and unswerving teamwork from his players and he instituted a tough and uncompromising training regime. Bob went on to coach North Melbourne and Hawthorn in the then VFL: the Hawks for 36 matches and North for 102 becoming the first ‘Shinboner’ coach ever to pass the magical 100-game milestone. Tragically he passed away at home in Mordialloc in 1952, aged only 56. He’d suffered from a liver cancer disease.

Tony Southcombe rates as one of the most influential big men in BFL history playing in eight premiership teams: four at Golden Square and another four with Northern United. The premierships came “Bluey’s” way in 1972-75-76-79 with the Square and then in the four-flag run with the Swallows from 1984-87. Tony was playing coach in five of those eight: the middle two at the Square and the first three with United. The premier ruckman of his era in the BFNL he won the Michelsen medals in 1972 (with a then record 33 votes) and again in 1975 during his time at Wade Street. Captain-coach by 1975 in a premiership season a consecutive triumph awaited in 1976 as the VFL beckoned.

Down to Carlton ‘Bluey’ went to play 13 games with the Blues, booting 11 goals. The 26-year-old returned to the Square mid-to-late season in 1976 to guide the Dogs to their ultimate premiership.

In 1979 Golden Square avenged their loss to Sandhurst the previous season by obliterating the Dragons. And Tony’s grand final performance was rated as one of the BFL’s best-ever by a big man. He played his 200th senior game in 1980 and then after two seasons with Boort took over the player-coach role at Northern United. The Swallows won three consecutive flags with Tony as coach. He continued on as a player only when United saluted again in 1987.

TheFox

Alan ‘The Fox’ McDonald retains a special place in South Bendigo and BFL history. He stands as the Bloods’ greatest ever coach leading South to five premierships in seven years between 1950 and 1956. After playing 49 games with Richmond in the VFL and then two seasons with Camberwell in the VFA ‘The Fox’ joined the lowly Bloods after WW2 and gradually built them into the BFL’s powerhouse. A ruck-rover (a ‘mid’ in today’s footy jargon) Alan built South in his early seasons at the Upper Reserve until they were good enough to win the 1950 flag. That success was followed by four more flags in 1951-54-55 and the prestigious Melbourne Olympic Games year of 1956.

That Olympic Games year premiership was a huge one for South. Sport was a top priority in Australians’ lives at that stage and there was ‘The Fox’ leading the Bloods to a 10-point win over Eaglehawk. But looking back the 1950 flag had ended a quarter-of-a-century drought for South Bendigo. They hadn’t won a BFL pennant since 1925. Echuca was a tough, physical side and ‘The Fox’ had to carefully manage his players in a bruising grand final. And after reaching the 200-game milestone with South in 1956 Alan returned to Richmond as senior coach for four years.

The Tigers weren’t any great shakes back in the late Fifties/early Sixties – taking home the ‘Spoon’ in 1960 – so Alan went back to South in 1961. He eventually led the Bloods as playing or non-playing coach for more than 250 games, finishing up in 1964.

Footnote: Best and Southcombe both played in Boort’s 1982 flag-winning team. But as that club’s in the North Central league, the achievements didn’t count with BFNL Hall of Fame selectors.

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