By Russell Bennett
Since 1893, those at the Emerald Cricket Club have made a habit of picking themselves up time and time again after getting knocked down. It’s a proud hallmark of the club that celebrates its 125-year milestone early in 2018.
And if those hills could talk, they’d have one hell of a story to tell.
On Friday night, some of the names most synonymous with the club gathered at Chandler Reserve to reminisce about the good old days.
But that’s the thing, they weren’t all good.
The club has gone into remission a number of times throughout the generations and faced plenty more battles – both on-field and off – but they’ve all served to help make the club what it is today; a rock-solid testament to its champions.
Chandler Reserve in Avonsleigh isn’t just named after one of Emerald’s most revered sporting figures. It sits on his land.
Allan Chandler, along with the likes of Rod Smith, Gary Santini and club president Kris Strong will stand proudly at the ground on 20 January – the 125th anniversary of the club’s inception.
On that day – which has been a decade in the planning – the Bombers’ first XI will play against their local rivals from Upper Beaconsfield and a who’s who of current and former Emerald figures will stand with the likes of Allan, Rod, Gary and Kris on the balcony overlooking one of the showpiece venues in local sport.
They’ll talk about the time Emerald hosted an MCC side skippered by Bert Ironmonger at the end of the First World War – the same player who made his Test debut for Australia at 46, and took seven wickets in an innings at the age of 48.
They’ll also talk about the three premierships in a row in the 1940s, Allan’s nephew Anthony Chandler taking a 10-wicket haul in an innings, and current heart-and-soul spearhead Clinton Marsh having his hopes of doing the same dashed by a remarkable runout from the deep by wicket-keeper and former baseballer Ian Litterbach.
And they’ll also talk about their move to the West Gippsland Cricket Association almost exactly 20 years ago and just why it was the best move they could have made.
“When the club first started in the 1890s the league was called the Emerald and District Cricket Association, which encompassed Macclesfield, Gembrook, Cockatoo, and Monbulk-Kallista, but we’ve been in a few different leagues over the years,” Gary said.
Though the current day first XI has battled hard for wins in recent seasons – only just surviving relegation in each of its yeas in the WGCA’s Premier division – the Bombers are focussing on their future and building around their young core.
They know the path to success will be a long and winding one, but it’s a path they’ll take together as one.
Allan, now 80, remembers Chandler Reserve for what it used to be – his yellow jonquil patch – to what it’s become, and everything in between.
He can’t wait for the function next month.
“There’s going to be plenty of old faces, but it’s not like the song says – ‘all my friends are getting married’,” he said.
“All my friends are falling off the perch!”
Allan vividly remembers the time the Bombers won five flags in seven seasons, and he also remembers the times since where Emerald didn’t have a side or struggled to cobble one together.
But most of all the man whose name is on the club champion award – the Chandler Medal – remembers the characters who’ve helped define the place.
“I remember one year we came back from Country Week and Emerald had six players playing,” he said.
“This would have been in the mid-1960s. We’d played in the grand final on the Friday and had just had enough cricket.
“We played against Gembrook up here on the Saturday after and we were about 6/80 before John Swain took the long handle.
“He put one straight up in the air and everyone came in after the ball. Swainy went up one end and came back and all of a sudden someone yells out ‘leave it for the keeper’.
“The only person who wasn’t under the ball was the keeper, who was back behind the stumps, but everyone else stood back and the ball landed in the middle of the pitch between all of them.
“About three balls later, one of their boys said ‘who was the silly bastard who said leave it for the keeper?’.
“Swainy just stood there, leaning on his bat with a big smile on his face. Bill Owen, who was the local greengrocer, was in a 100 partnership with him and made a duck that day!”
Allan, who turns 81 soon, will remember famous club figures like the three generations of the Worrells (which Worrell Reserve was named after).
And he’ll also remember his own family – particularly his younger brother and fellow premiership player Bernard, who died at just 21.
“It was the week of a semi-final,” Allan remembered.
“My brother’s side wasn’t playing in the finals so he’d gone to Gippsland duck shooting.
“Back here a news flash came over that someone had been shot up at Sale at the opening of duck season, and then we found out that it was my brother but I was the captain of a team playing in a semi-final down at Belgrave.
“I put my mum and dad in their car and they drove up to Sale and I went down to Belgrave to play.
“I put the pads on and I didn’t have a nerve in my body at that point – I knew my brother was in a pretty bad way – so I went out there and I walked off the field 40 minutes later and I’d made 117.
“I then drove straight to Sale. They moved him to The Alfred and he was there for 18 days and they did everything they could to save him, but he died at 21. He’d been married for six months.”
The next week, Allan – who was in his late 20s at the time – played in his only losing grand final at Emerald; the only time his heart wasn’t quite in it.
Past players, administrators and supporters are invited to join their current day red and black brothers and sisters – like Allan – from 3.30pm on 20 January at Chandler Reserve with the major speeches to follow at the end of the day’s play.
The club is on the lookout for anyone who can provide more invaluable memorabilia for the day, such as old photographs or red and black caps. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.