Yallourn Football Club - 1945-65 - Murray French - by Roger Spaull


Families play a central role in all country clubs and sporting groups. Yallourn was no exception. By reading the match reports and team lists, over the 55 years of the club’s existence, it is apparent that Yallourn was a ‘family concern.’

‘The French Connection’ was a perfect example of how families contributed to the life and organization of the football club. Murray French has never forgotten what the YFC meant to him and his family. “My father (Bill) and I lived at the football club. We idolized every one of the players. One of our greatest moments was when we picked up Gerald Marchesi (YFC Coach 1955-56) from ‘Wilson’s Butchers’ and took him to training. I will never forget when Jack Aitken (Coach 1954) gave me his jumper.”

Murray’s family loved football and were either loyal club officials or part of the Blues’ band of enthusiastic supporters who followed the team through ‘rain, hail and shine.’ “All my career, my brother (Trevor) was boundary or goal umpire …Uncle Sam was a trainer… and my cousins Brian and Graham were heavily involved….my grandparents (Barney & Daisy) never missed a match. The whole French family would be at the ground early each week to get their spot on the fence.”

Murray was born in the Yallourn Hospital (1941) and he loved his childhood days in and around the township. Like most young boys, life was fun and games and, even from an early age, Murray displayed an above average ability in sports. At Yallourn Primary School (4085) and Yallourn Technical School, Murray excelled in outdoor activities.

The hours that Murray spent at the football club were the ‘best hours of the school week’ and with Bill he grew to appreciate the club and ‘everything that went with it.’

Murray was only seven years of age when Yallourn won the 1948 CGFL Premiership. He still vividly remembers the excitement of the day and pride he felt as a supporter in the Blues victory. (Note: The 1948 flag was to be Yallourn’s last premiership ~ see Virtual Yallourn for that story).

Yallourn’s coach in 1948 was former Collingwood and Fitzroy back man, Ted Hill. He was a proficient coach and one of the most successful coaches in country football. Ted only coached Yallourn for one season but he left an indelible memory with young Murray…“I remember Ted Hill kicking place kicks.”

His boyhood heroes included Jimmy Shaw, Des Madden, Bernie Nairn, Morris ‘Mossie’ Williams, Bruce Knight, Kevin Fanning and Allan McIntyre. From watching football as a young boy to playing was a natural progression for Murray. He played in Yallourn’s Under 13 and Under 16 teams. Murray recalls the Under 16 Grand Final against Trafalgar…“Vic Robinson (who won the 1951 Best Clubman Trophy for the YFC reserves) was our coach and Brian Ebsworth, a talented young centre man, was our skipper”.

In Round 2 of the 1961 season, Murray broke into the senior ranks of LVFL football. During the match at Drouin, reliable full back Brian Edmondson (1957-63; 91 games) had sustained a serious injury and Murray came ‘off the bench’ to replace him. That was the start of a notable career and Murray recollects wearing the number 5 guernsey (previously worn by Ted Phillpot) with tremendous pride.

As history shows, Murray developed into a leading player in the LVFL and gained a reputation as an adept, strong marking and “big-hearted” ruckman.

There is every chance that Murray’s football prowess was enhanced by the transferable skills from his other passion ~ tennis. While football and tennis are so very different in nature; factors such as hand-eye coordination, deft footwork, aerobic capacity, mental toughness and watching a ball in flight, gave Murray the perfect grounding for developing his football skills.

In the period 1961-65, Murray’s service and awards while playing with YFC were impressive:
Runner –up in YFC Best &Fairest ~1961-63-64.
Club Best & Fairest~1965.
Best Clubman ~1962.
LVFL Trood/Rodda Medal Runner- Up~1965.
YFC Vice-captain~1965.
Reserves Coach~1965.
Senior/assistant Coach.
LVFL Representative in VCFL Championships~1965.

In all, Murray played 77 senior and two reserves games for YFC in the LVFL.

Murray kicked only a handful of goals with his best return being three in one match (Yallourn v Moe). Murray has never forgotten the ‘best behind’ he ever kicked in his career. In a nail biting finish at Moe, Murray intentionally kicked a point for Moe (defined as a ‘rushed' point). This, in turn, gave Yallourn possession as the clock ticked down. The siren sounded and the Blues had hung onto win by the narrowest possible margin. Sometimes in football ‘you need to go backwards to go forwards.’

The VCFL Championships are always a reliable gauge of the capabilities of any footballer and Murray was rewarded for his sterling efforts in 1965 with inter-league selection. Frank Munro (Traralgon/Carlton/Richmond~1954-56) was the coach and Allan Steele (Moe Trood/Rodda Medallist~1963) was captain. One of Gippsland’s greatest-ever forwards, Bill Stephenson (Sale/St Kilda~1957-63/Victoria) played alongside Murray in the country series at Morwell and Leongatha that year.

Asked to name some opponents who he admired, Murray listed Allan Steele, the Pleydell brothers (Maffra), Jim Bowe (Traralgon) and a remarkable character and accomplished ruckman named Don Keyter (Moe/South Melbourne~1953-58).

It is easy to see why Murray has never forgotten his clashes with Don Keyter. Don (born 1931) joined South Melbourne from Merbein (Ron ‘Knuckles’ Lee’s home town) in 1953. He played 86 VFL games and also represented Victoria. Don was a strong and ‘no-frills’ ruckman who had a reputation in the VFL as a ‘protector’ of smaller players. Wherever he played, he made a ‘sudden impact.’ (Don also coached at Griffith FC and Rochester FC.)

It is not hard to imagine Murray and Don going ‘hammer and tongs’ in battle against each other. They were highly competitive footballers and both would have enjoyed the ‘duel for supremacy.’

In the period 1961-65, Murray was coached by Jim Dorgan (South Melbourne ~1951-58), John Hutchinson (Fitzroy ~1957-58), Gary Butler (Melbourne Reserves/Prahran VFA~1962-63), and Mike Collins (Melbourne ~1961-62). Each brought a different style and philosophy to the club and Murray profited from their experience and knowledge of the game.

In Murray’s opinion, the ‘pick of the crop’ of players in his time included…Jimmy Shaw (Melbourne 1949), Kevin Fanning, Morris ‘Mossie’ Williams (Carlton Reserves), Ron Lee, John Hutchinson (Fitzroy 1957-58), Tom Garland (Richmond 1963-64), Gerald Marchesi (North Melbourne1947-54), John Paice (Carlton 1955) and George Botten.

Looking back, Murray thinks that his four years as the YFC Under 13 Coach were most rewarding despite his young team…“…never scaling great heights…..but we all loved our footy.” From reading his comments on these years, perhaps Murray should have considered bus driving as a career option…“Some days I would run a relay and take all the kids to the ground in my EH Holden……a lot of our boys went onto play senior football at Yallourn.”

Murray is the classic case of the ‘circle of life’ in football. His love for YFC began back in the 1940’s and it encouraged and impelled him forward to the places of ‘his dreams.’ Sport can be a ‘life force’ in shaping the future of young people. It is so true in Murray’s case.

Murray’s memories of family, school, football, tennis, work and life in the town still linger. His words say it all...“Yallourn was a wonderful place to live. There was a wonderful community spirit and we were proud to work for the SEC.”

1. The Yallourn Tennis Club grew from humble beginnings and flourished to the point that, in the early 1960’s, it had more than 200 members.
2. Carlisle, Ashmore, Johnstone, Sparrow, Hutchinson, Gore, Davey, Meadows, Hurley, Bayes, Brown, Crookston, Melbourne and Bowen were prominent family names in district tennis. However, one person stands above all in the history of Yallourn Tennis Club. It can be a folly to judge ‘the best’ in any field of endeavour but all would agree that Murray was the best tennis player Yallourn TC ever produced.
3. Murray’s record speaks for itself:
Winner of 25 Latrobe Valley Singles Championships.
State Grade~ Melbourne.
Junior & Senior Championships at Yallourn Tennis Club.
Singles& Doubles winner at the Australian Championships.
Captained Australia in three International Veteran’s tournaments.
Represented Australia at home and overseas on 10 occasions.
Winner of two World Titles.
Third placed in three World Titles.
Many awards and trophies in district and club tennis over the years.
4. The Latrobe Valley Association’s website (www.ltva.com) shows Murray’s astounding record in district tennis and Victorian Country Week Tennis Competition.
5. At the time of writing this story, Murray is still involved in tennis.

No matter what you hear, ‘The French Tennis Open’ is not really named after Murray!

Written by Roger Spaull for Virtual Yallourn ~ January 2013.

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Reference Photo: 

Murray French - Yallourn Football Club YFC - 1945-1965