North Melbourne has a long and storied history with the Ovens & Murray Football League, with former zoning rules allowing the club to recruit some of the best players in its history from the region, including dual premiership heroes Frank Gumbleton, Ross Henshaw and Gary Cowton.
Another player was Gary Gray, a three-sport athlete from Albury, whose long association with North culminated with two senior games in 1976.
Joining the under 17’s side in 1972, Gray says his association with the Kangaroos came somewhat out of the blue.
“In my last couple of years at school I started playing in the seniors for Albury where Bob Spargo was the seniors coach at the time … I thought I was just going to go back onto the farm but unbeknownst to me, a former North coach was living up there and might’ve given my name to the club,” Gray told North Media.
“I played a few reserves games and played off against Hawthorn in the under 19’s Grand Final where we lost by three points … the next year I played half a dozen or so games with the reserves and then got cut.
“I got another call to come down and train in 1975, which I did, I made the supplementary list and then made the list and played a couple of games in 1976. We played off in the reserves Grand Final in ’76 against Collingwood, where we lost by four points.”
With so many past players from a golden era of North Melbourne football living in the Albury region, the Past Players and Officials Association (PPOA) has a strong presence in the area.
Along with PPOA president, Anthony Stevens, Gray is hoping for as many past players living in the region to sign up and reconnect with the club.
“I was talking to Stevo about four weeks ago and he suggested we organise the old Albury crowd and try to get some more of the guys involved,” he said.
“We used to have a luncheon up here, but we haven’t had it for a couple of years, I think we needed to get that started up again. You’d always get 100-120 people.
“This is the time past players can really contribute to the club … North has never been so involved in the draft and we have access to some of the best young talent in the country, it’s exciting.”
Arguably the fastest player in the VFL during his tenure at North, Gray achieved two fourth placed finishes in the Stawell Gift in 1978 and 1980 as he recovered from a snapped quad, suffered in 1976.
“(Ron) Barassi used to put me up against all the quick guys like Keith Greig, Johnny Burns and Malcolm Blight … I’d belt them by about 20 metres each time. My job was purely to be that runner in the side that would grab the ball and take off … I was meant to be in the 1976 Grand Final sprint but because I snapped my quad, I couldn’t do it” he said.
“My running basically went out the window when I started playing football … but when I started pre-season training after snapping my quad, there was a lot of scar tissue that wasn’t coming good, so I felt if I wanted to come back to football I needed to prove I could run again.
“I tried to have a go in Stawell in ’77 but got glandular fever and missed out on that … then the following year I ran fourth … I ran another Stawell Gift and then contemplated coming back to football, by which time Barassi was at Melbourne.
“Things just happened and I got the bug and kept on training, then I snapped my other quad and that was the end of my running career.
“I was the type of player who could go into the defence or the forward line, just have that roaming licence to run and take a few bounces.”
The club is seeking past players, who have represented North Melbourne at any level, to be part of the association.
If you are a past player, or know someone that would like to be part of the Association, please fill in the form below and a representative from the club will be in touch with further information.
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