Neville ‘Turtle’ Bow is an iconic name of not only the Garfield Football Club, but football throughout West Gippsland. Always one to speak his mind – and often with his trademark sense of humour – ‘Turtle’ sat down with Gazette sports editor Russell Bennett in San Remo recently for this intriguing Beer O’Clock…
Russell Bennett: How did you start your footy career mate? When, and where?
Neville Bow: I started at Garfield back in ’76 in the under-14s. I had a couple of brothers playing above me, and it just went from there. I played in the winning ’77 fourths grand final, and then I think it changed age groups and went to the under-15s in ’79 so I played fourths again. I went to Cora Lynn in 1980 for the thirds because we didn’t have a side. That was just for the one year…
RB: I was going to touch on that – how a Garfield club legend once ended up at Cora Lynn…
NB: There were three of us who went across. That’s how Ronnie Hampton started at Cora Lynn! He and I were mates, and he came to Garfield to play. Timmy O’Halloran was coaching the under-17s back then, but we couldn’t get a side together. A couple of them went to Bunyip – like Francis Clebney – and there was always that Bunyip-Garfield rivalry. My old man hated Bunyip, so I was never going there! (laughs). Cora Lynn was the next option, so I went out there and nearly stayed… but the old man put a stop to that. He said I was coming back, but I liked it out there – I had a lot of mates I went to school with there. Darryl Adams was a great coach, and taught me a lot… except how to kick. He tried for the whole season to teach me how to kick, but he couldn’t.
RB: What was he trying, mate? Because you’re synonymous with your, shall we say, ‘interesting’ kicking style…
NB: I’d run around the boundary bouncing the ball, and he’d say the way I was bouncing the ball was the way I should have been delivering the ball on to my foot. At training it was great, but I’d get to the game and it all went out the window and I had no idea. It was probably the pressure (laughs) – I just wanted to get rid of it.
RB: And how did your style even come about?
NB: David Cloke would be to blame for that, I think mate! (laughs) I watched him a fair bit because he was an idol in that era. He was obviously a Tiger man, and so was I. He had a wild style, but he was always pretty good with it. I tried it, and was no good but still kept the style!
RB: Correct me if this is wrong, but I heard your style stemmed from trying to kick the footy over these trees on your property…
NB: Where we lived out in the swamp there were these tall cypress trees, and there was a gap in between them so you had to kick through that gap for a goal. For Every Bow who kicks a footy, it’s probably suicide for whoever tries to mark it! (laughs) You had to kick it over, because if the footy landed in the tree you’d have to climb up and get it. I reckon that’s what stuffed my kicking – along with the David Cloke style.
RB: So, you went back to Garfield after your time at Cora Lynn – dad’s orders. Talk me through that period until your first senior premiership as a teenager in 1983…
NB: I went back to Garfield and played top age under-17s in 1982, and at the end of that season Garfield and Bunyip were almost about to merge because we weren’t going that well, and neither were they. When 1983 came around, Garfield lost a lot of players because we weren’t going so well. They disappeared into the city, and Bunyip got moved to the Ellinbank league. We had a lot of younger players, and all of them who’d played reserves for the years before that went up to play seniors under Joey (Lenders). A couple of us out of the juniors joined them and we won the flag. That side in ’83 was full of locals, but Tony Gay returned partway through the season and that was big. We had four O’Hallorans playing, Peter Hermans, Timmy Collis, John Barnes, Murray Payne… we’d all been around Garfield. Garfield was known to have had these boys from in town, but they disappeared. A few of them probably didn’t like Joey.
It was almost a full team of locals that year, and Tommy Cleary came across from Bunyip and Glen Humphrey was from south Gippsland. The rest were pretty much the same – nearly 10 of us who came up through the ranks playing juniors together.
It was a breakout year for us, definitely.
RB: And you were just a teenager back then…
NB: Yeah, I was 17. Muzza (Murray Payne) was probably 19 then, and there were a few of those boys in the side too. We had a lot of teenagers in that side – Francis Clebney (18), Brendan Fawkner (19), Damien Cole (19), and Tim Collis, Muzza, and Glen Murtagh who might’ve just gone out of their teenage years.
RB: Was that the magic of that side, mate – that you had so many local kids looking to prove themselves and establish themselves at the level, against men?
NB: Yes, it probably was I’d say. You’d nearly say that was the start of Garfield’s success of using juniors coming through the ranks. I spoke at a game a couple of years ago, when my young bloke (Jonty) played his first. I just said Garfield had been known to bring its juniors up, play them, and ultimately have some success with them. Koowee is on the right track now – they’ve got seven or eight juniors in that side. You can’t be successful straight away, but you have to be patient.
RB: You’ve always been massive on that, haven’t you mate?
NB: Definitely. I don’t like paid players – that’s one of my beefs. I’ve never been paid to play, myself. You need those top-up players to fill in the gaps, but you shouldn’t build your side around them. Have your juniors there, and then fill the holes. It’s hard to get a big centre-half back or ruckman out of your local stocks, clearly.
RB: And clearly you’ve never been one to shy away from telling people that clubs really should be bringing their local kids through…
NB: It’s not about coin, or it shouldn’t be, and obviously my attitude to that has rubbed off on my young bloke because he’s been offered money to play elsewhere and he said he just plays footy because he loves it. I never got paid, except what I got in awards. There are a lot of people out there who put a big price on their head, and clubs think if they want so much money they must be good players… but they always get found out in the end if they’re no good.
RB: Back to 1983, mate – tell me about that finals series, not just the famous decider against Drouin…
NB: I broke my collarbone two weeks before the end of the home and away season, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it back in time. Everyone said it was a bad injury, but I’d already broken the other side years earlier. Within a week-and-a-half I’d got back to training, and I did a fitness test on about the fourth week after it happened and played in the second semi against Drouin, which we lost. We ended up playing Koowee at Nar Nar Goon in the prelim, and I played that, so into the grand final I went. I snagged a couple of goals along the way, but I could hardly even get a kick in that grand final.
I kicked three in the second semi and four in the prelim, but hardly got a kick in the grand final. I was always in the wrong place at the wrong time that day.
RB: You had the ability to play just about anywhere, and played a number of roles over your career, but where were you playing at that stage?
NB: I ended up getting put down back, on the flank. Terry Roach got injured so I took his spot on the flank, and then I broke my collarbone at Longwarry and he came back into the side so I got moved to the forward pocket when I made it back. Muzz was at full-forward, and that’s how it went. I started off at full-forward at the start of the year, at about 6’2”. Joey tried me there, but as a 17-year-old kid I was immature, didn’t know how to lead, and couldn’t go any further than about 30 metres out from goal if I was going to kick goals because I was just a terrible kick.
RB: And you were playing on big-bodied men at that stage…
NB: Yeah, and I was only a skinny little runt (laughs).
RB: When you think about that 1983 premiership side, and Joey as coach – what springs to mind first?
NB: He was probably my first serious coach. Kevin Jose coached me, and Timmy O’Halloran for a short time but the fourths coach was only someone already hanging around the club. Joey was my first serious coach, and here I was – this smartarse 17-year-old who tested him a fair bit, let’s say that (laughs).
RB: You weren’t afraid to lip off, were you mate?
NB: Well I didn’t know how tough Joey really was – which was a big mistake on my part! (laughs). I was blissfully unaware. I remember we played this practice match at Syndal. I’ve always been a bit mouthy, so I gave Joey a bit of lip – probably called him a stump-arse, or something like that – and it must’ve got to him. He teed this up with his brother-in-law, Francis Clebney – when ‘Turtle’ goes into the toilet, just shut the door behind us…
So, I walked in to the toilet before the game and Joey walked in behind me and then the door shut, and Joey says something like: “Got something to say now, you smart little prick?”. He gave me a couple of jabs, and we went out and played footy! (laughs). Those were the days.
Joey was just so inspirational as a player-coach – he led by example and was so tough on the ground, so you always stood taller alongside him. You were never going to get belted by anyone, because you knew Joey would protect you. You just felt safe with him around.
RB: And he’d never tell you to do something he wouldn’t do, himself?
NB: No, that’s right and he’d be standing there with a fag in his hand giving us a speech about what he expected of us. You just wouldn’t see that today.
RB: After that 1983 premiership, you guys – as a young side – came back to the chasing pack a little bit didn’t you?
NB: Yeah, ’89 was our next finals appearance. For some unknown reason – I still don’t know why to this day – Joey was replaced in ’84. He came back in ’85, but then he went over to Cora Lynn in ’86 which was a bit of a disappointment as far as I was concerned and it didn’t sit well with me.
I only left for Cora Lynn in the juniors because I had to. We didn’t have a team.
The only taste of success we had for years there after the ’83 premiership was when Lang Lang was undefeated and we beat them twice despite not having a ground to play on. We had this bloke at centre-half forward, Mark Campbell, and they’re the best two games he ever played.
RB: So the Western Bulldogs are an example in the AFL – they won the flag in 2016 with a bunch of kids and a few more experienced heads, and then struggled for a few years…
NB: Yeah, maybe we were running on pure want to win a grand final that year. I remember as a junior, leading up to 1983 we could always make first semis, second semis, and even prelim finals but we’d never go further and make grand finals. But then all of a sudden we made it – beat Koowee in a hard match at Nar Nar Goon, and then made it. There’s footage of the infamous 1983 first quarter where there were blokes punching on left, right and centre.
RB: You’ve led me straight into that…
NB: Yeah, well we banged on nine goals in the first quarter and I think that was more or less the beginning of the end for Drouin that day.
RB: It’s probably the most infamous grand final of this area of recent decades. Talk me through it from the eyes of a then 17-year-old…
NB: When we went out there, Muzz told me to head to full-forward and hopefully the best defender would line up on me and he could just stand in the forward pocket. They already knew what was going on. It was about five minutes into the game and one Drouin bloke went down and Timmy O’Halloran was running in the other direction with his trademark limp. It was just on for young and old then, literally. They had the Abletts, and we had Joey and Josey, Timmy O’Halloran, and AB Gay could throw a couple too. I went in there and grabbed a few blokes, but only blokes who were about the same as me – not aggressive or tough. You had to pick your mark in case you grabbed the wrong bloke and copped one! (laughs).
They were tough men, so you’d stand back a bit. When that finished we banged on the goals and there were only a few more minor scuffles. I think Garfield really stamped its authority in that first quarter, and it might’ve stunned Drouin a bit. We were a young side, but the older blokes we did have were tough boys so they gave us the belief that we could stand up and knock this mob off. To Muzza’s credit, his legs wobbled a bit from one hit but he got up and kicked seven.
RB: That was your own line in the sand moment, as a club, wasn’t it?
NB: Yeah, it was. Golly (Chris Soumilas) was the president of the club that year and for many years after, and he was a great believer in not paying big money for players, and using the local talent. That 1983 season was proof of that. It was just such an out-of-the-blue win, looking back. Joey resumed as coach, and we’d lost a handful of players at the start of the year. We brought in some juniors and blokes who’d been overlooked in previous years, and who’d played seconds… who would have thought, hey?
I don’t think we would have really believed it was possible.
RB: So after winning the premiership at Garfield in 1983, there was a bit of a lean stretch for the side until you made the finals in 1989…
NB: Muzza (Murray Payne) had left to go and play with the Frankston Dolphins, but then he came back and brought with him another bloke named Damien Brees – another Frankston boy.
We just picked up a few other players, and had some locals coming through. We were actually pretty good again…
RB: And you were well established as a player, at that stage – about 22 or so?
NB: Yeah, about 23. We actually weren’t a bad side that year under Mark, but then something happened in the first semi-final when we played Tooradin and we copped an absolute flogging.
That kicked us around a bit and we went back downhill again. It was like the Garfield of old then – you’d make the finals and go nowhere.
RB: So it must’ve been a pretty steep curve over the next three years to then win the premiership again in 1993…
NB: Yep, it definitely was Russ. We made it in 1992 but lost against a bloody powerful Drouin side – the best side I ever played against. For two years in a row, you could hardly get near them. Pakenham tried everything and couldn’t get near them, and we just didn’t have the firepower to keep up with them. If we’d won that one in 1992, it would have been the biggest fluke of the century really. We believed we could do it, but it was just never going to happen that year.
Ossie resumed coaching in 1990, Ray Payne (Windows) got the coaching role at Cora Lynn and took Murray with him, and we also lost a few players. We went backwards that year.
RB: I’m assuming that didn’t go down too well with you, Turtle…
NB: No. We’d obviously played a fair bit of footy together and played in grand finals together, and we were mates and always would be, but I still couldn’t accept him going to a rival club. I loved it when Muzza went to Frankston to better his career, because it was a better standard of footy, but Windows went over to the Cobras to coach and Muzz just went with him. He was there for 1990 and 1991, and came back in ’92 when Geoff Raven came to coach us.
The ’90 and ’91 seasons were very lean years for us. We would have been lucky to win a handful of games over those two years.
Joey took over in ’91 for his second stint and we just didn’t have the firepower.
RB: So what was the turnaround, then, from a pretty low point to the highest of highs in 1993?
NB: Geoff Raven coming across from Frankston. He took us on these footy camps, which are commonplace now, but we’d never heard of them before. Don’t get me wrong mate, I never went because I thought they were a load of s*** (laughs), but everyone got together and built a really strong connection. There was great camaraderie in that group.
We just couldn’t get close to Drouin prior to that. In 1992 we just couldn’t get near them. That side was definitely the benchmark, and the best side I played against.
They used to have these Sunday games – Drouin and Pakenham – and every time we’d go and watch them they’d be fantastic contests but Drouin would find a way to win.
RB: On the eve of the ’93 season, did you have the feeling you had the side to get the job done?
NB: The boys had gone on a footy trip to Adelaide in ’92, and Geoff Raven found a girl over there. We had him as coach for the next season, but no he decided he liked it over there so he resigned and stayed. So, we’d gone up to the top and the coach left, so we had to find another one. Muzza put his hand up, and that was probably the best thing that could have happened. We got Chris Denereaz in, Chris O’Sullivan, Mark Osborn back… we just had this great combination of blokes.
RB: I’m guessing it wouldn’t have been hard following Murray, given what he’d already meant to the group…
NB: That’s right – he was hard, but fair. He really led by example, and you’d nearly say Muzza was probably the best coach (we had). I’d often wonder which one was the best, but I’d say Muzza – with his strategy, and just the way he’d get the hair on the back of your neck standing up with some of the speeches he gave.
RB: Do you think his coaching ability almost goes unsaid somewhat, because of how good a player he was?
NB: Maybe under-rated yes. He coached us for one year, for one flag. It was “one shot, one kill” as he said. At half-time in a game against Kooweerup we weren’t playing that well, and Gav Upton wasn’t playing that well. He wasn’t putting in as much as he should have, and I remember coming into the rooms at half-time and the drinks flew from one side of the room to the other. Everyone just stopped, and Muzz gave us this almighty spray. We came out for the second half, and Gav might’ve kicked six or seven over those two quarters alone.
RB: So if he gave you guys a spray, you’d take it the right way and lift – rather than going into your shells?
NB: Yeah, definitely. If a coach did that today, the players would probably pack their bags and walk out the door. That’s what’s changed. You need to just cop your right whack, and get over it in that situation. It’s not personal – it’s for the benefit of the side.
I think we might’ve been six or seven goals up at three-quarter time in ’93 but he said “if I see any of you blokes smile when you walk out of this huddle, I’ll knock your head off”. A few of us were just looking at each other and holding our hands over our mouths. Lucky Muzz was behind us! (laughs). He was serious to the end. Ruthless.
RB: So a great group of mates wins the flag in ’93 – similar to ’83, blokes who were synonymous with Garfield…
NB: You look at ’83 and you had Brendan Fawkner, Timmy Collis, Joey Lenders, ‘Brolga’ Marsh who was the runner after doing his knee, myself, John Barnes – there was a group of guys who’d played a lot of footy together for a lot of years, through the good times and the bad.
Again (in ’93), the juniors had come up – you had Ash Bow, Richie Scamporlino, and Gaz Vitiritti who’d all been in and out of the twos and they were fully accepted into the seniors. Muzza had full confidence in them. It was much the same as ’83, with blokes who’d played juniors and seconds all the way through. None of us could kick though, so I don’t know how we actually won it! (laughs).
We were terrible kicks, Russ. We couldn’t kick over a jam tin. They used to say about us “too fat, too slow, can’t kick”…
RB: So that must’ve made that ’93 premiership even sweeter…
NB: Yeah, absolutely.
RB: Compare that premiership to the ’83 win – clearly it was a different game for you, personally…
NB: Very much so! I had a real sigh of relief. In footy we always talk about big game players and in ’83 I didn’t do anything. In ’89, in the first semi, I didn’t do anything then either. In ’92 in the grand final against Drouin I played full-forward and I didn’t do anything then either. In ’93 it was real monkey off the back stuff – I had to do something. I never put too much pressure on myself at the time, but it was later on when I started thinking about that sort of stuff. In ’93 I think I kicked the first goal of the day, and it was in a very similar circumstance to ’83. I remember Kevin Jose handballed it to me and I kept paddling the ball in front of myself and couldn’t get to it and it went through for a behind. In ’93 the same thing happened, and I kicked it off the ground for a goal and that was the monkey off the back. I kicked five that day in the end
RB: When was your last year of senior footy, mate?
NB: 1999. I was 34, and that was it. The following season I decided to stay away from footy, because I only lived opposite the ground, and then I moved over here (to Phillip Island).
My wife Tanya’s mum is over here, and I needed to get away from footy to walk away properly…. but that didn’t work at all (laughs).
RB: You’ve been around the club since haven’t you?
NB: I went back and coached the reserves for two seasons while I was living here, and later I became the president from over here too! Those Latrobe Valley days were really hard times for us, so I had to put my hand up. Jude (Bishop) had done it for a while – in the West Gippy league, and when the club made the switch across. Golly (Chris Soumilas) had taken a bit of a step back because Benny and Andy were playing senior footy then.
RB: That leads us into the West Gippy days, and the situation that brought an end to the club’s time there and the eventual move into the Ellinbank league. Clearly it’s a controversial time in the club’s history, given the sides people took…
NB: I didn’t like the West Gippsland/Latrobe (what became the Gippsland League) but the standard of footy was good. I hated Ellinbank, because I thought it was just kick and giggle – it wasn’t great quality at all. I wasn’t for West Gippsland/Latrobe, really, but I was anti-Ellinbank. There were probably only half a dozen of us who wanted to stay put. We had a vote, and it made a lot of enemies of people and a lot of bad came out of that five-year period in West Gippsland/Latrobe. Some people haven’t been at the club since, and won’t come back. It became personal for some people, instead of just leaving it about where we were going to play our footy.
RB: Do you think that’s because the club meant so much to some people that they had trouble separating the personal side of things from the club?
NB: Yes. Definitely. Certain people took on certain roles within the club and they were just heart and soul in those roles. If you went against what they were doing, sometimes they’d take it personally.
I’m still disappointed about how that panned out. There were these secret meetings going on in people’s sheds about getting out of West Gippsland/Latrobe and going back to Ellinbank, and we used to call those people the Stonecutters – like in ‘The Simpsons’ (laughs).
It did get a bit personal back then though, and some of what happened wasn’t great. We’ve got a “back to” (reunion) this year, but I can’t see some of the blokes coming back. I wish they would though, because it’s been such a long time now. Just let it go.
RB: For yourself and your family, moving from Garfield down to Phillip Island – it’s quite literally a sea change. It’s a bit different from Garfield. Is it the best thing you’ve done?
NB: Definitely. I work at Ponderosa Timber and Hardware in Koowee still, so it’s 40 minutes away and Garfield going through the back way is only a bit over 45. My young bloke (Jonty) still plays there and drives there every training night, but I don’t feel as though I have to turn up to the club all the time anymore. If you live there, you feel like you have to be involved, but I do a bit of interstate driving for work – you come back from South Australia, and then you have to go to a meeting at the club for another three or four hours, and then drive home again. We pick up timber out of Mount Gambier and I’m over there maybe once or twice a week. I’ve been doing it for probably 16 years, since I was the president.
RB: A change of tack for a second here Turtle – your nickname. How did it come about?
NB: At Garfield everyone’s got a nickname. There’s a cartoon character called ‘Touché Turtle’ and ‘Banana’ (Tim Collis) gave it to me. We were mucking around out at the farm and I think I was on the mower, and he said “Gee he looks like Touché Turtle!”. It just came from that, and it’s stuck since. A few people used to call me ‘Beaker’ because of my beak of a nose (laughs).
RB: I know you finished playing senior footy in 1999, but you never actually retired did you?
NB: I never said I’d retired, no. I just finished. Every tour Johnny Farnham does is his last, isn’t it? He always makes a comeback, so I just said “I’m not retiring – I’m just not playing”.
RB: So that’s because if you decided you did want to play again, you didn’t want to have to bring yourself out of retirement?
NB: That’s right, and I played Superules for a year and that gave me the false sense that I was still going alright (laughs), so I came back and coached the twos for two years. I gave that up again… until we went into the West Gippsland/Latrobe after we won the flag in 2004. We lost a lot of players and my younger brother Ash took over as seconds coach so I said I’d help him out, and we ended up playing seniors again for three quarters of the year because we just didn’t have the cattle. I think I was 38 or 39 then.
RB: What was it like seeing the seniors win the flag in 2004?
NB: Well they should have won it in ’03, but ’04 was a real, hard slog out at Cora Lynn. The ground was slushy, it was freezing cold, and it was just a hard slog against Warragul. There were a few things that turned the game, like when Souma (Ben Soumilas) gave one of the opposition players one in front of the crowd and it was let go… and then there was Lincoln (Withers) kicking this wet brick of a ball from 50 out and kicking two goals when there weren’t many kicked at all. Andy (Soumilas) might’ve even got bloody hypothermia it was that cold!
To this day, I still believe that if we kept that same side in 2005 we would have given the other league a good run for its money. Maffra was the benchmark out that way, but I think we could have really pushed them.
Unfortunately once the Latrobe Valley came into it, people just disappeared.
RB: And that was the precursor to what’s now the Gippsland League with the likes of Warragul and Drouin in that…
NB: That’s right, and they’re battling away. People don’t want to travel that far, so that’s where the money has to come into it now for paid players because if you’re traveling to Maffra or Bairnsdale for a game you want to be paid for it.
I remember in 2009 it was just so hard to keep players. We didn’t want to pay the money, but the locals were all having a dip so we decided that everyone would get the same amount of money. We won one game that year. We’d never beaten Sale in the five years or so we’d been in the league, but that was the only game we won that year.
RB: Tell me about your relationship with the jumper number 6…
NB: Well Norm Box wore number 6 early in the piece and he’s still involved as a supporter, and Joey Lenders took it over. Kevin Jose had it for a little while, and I took it over from there and had it all the way through to 1999 before Mal McKenna took it over, and Gus Mitchell has it now. It’s not a number that’s been handed around a lot, so it’s not like the number has been handed out to a different person every year. Normy Box played a fair few games in it, Joey played a lot in it, I played a lot, Mal played a lot, and Gus is still playing now. The number might actually be symbolic of blokes spending a long time at the club.
RB: Turtle, you’ve got a reputation around the footy club as a straight shooter and not being afraid to hand out some advice…
NB: I think that’s got a lot to do with my old man, and Golly – he’s had a big influence on me too. He was the same as me about paid players. I remember we went down to interview a player at Mulgrave and we thought we might pay him $150 – tops – and the guy we interviewed said he was worth $500. This was years ago. We just walked out, looked at each other, and said “there’s not a chance in hell”.
RB: Your ability to take a strong mark became one of the trademarks in your playing career. What else would you associate with your game?
NB: No, that’s about it really (laughs). I was never physically intimidated, because you’d play alongside blokes like Muzza and Joey who wouldn’t take a backwards step. You knew you’d cop one every now and then, but that was just part of the game. There was one bloke who did intimidate me, actually – he played for Longwarry… Charlie Daniels. He was about 6’3” and a real wild man. He scared the living daylights out of me!
RB: And you were never shy of a word out on the ground…
NB: No, it’s a different toughness on the ground. You can get away with a hell of a lot out there, but off the ground you’d never do it.
I gave it to ‘Brolga’ (Peter Marsh) one day when he was umpiring. He loved a yap, and a free was award against me so he came up and started talking about it. I just snapped back “Brolga! We don’t want a story, just give him the ball!”. I think it stunned him a little bit (laughs).
RB: But in all seriousness, one of your strengths was your versatility – your ability to play different roles within a side…
NB: I played every role the same though, Russ. I never played on a player! (laughs). I got abused that many times by team mates because I just wouldn’t man up. My opponent would run up the ground to the wing and get a kick, but I’d hang back and mark it so I just figured it was fair enough. I’d let him go up the ground when I was playing in defence, but I’d be a bit closer to him if he was within range.
RB: You won a best and fairest in the ruck, didn’t you? At about 6’2” in the old scale?
NB: Yes. I think Frosty Miller put me in the ruck, actually. It was my first B&F, but being in the ruck you didn’t have to be accountable for a man and that was the best part about it! I won five senior best and fairests, but probably the most meaningful was in ’94 – a premiership year. I won them in ’87 and ’88, and ’90 and ‘91 – but no finals in those years. Best and fairests in bad sides don’t mean much, but to win it in ’94 with Muzza, Chris Denereaz, and all the others in there – that’s the best one.
RB: But you weren’t a great trainer either, were you?
NB: No, not at all. I didn’t like it one bit. Pre-season was three weeks out from the season for me, and it’s rubbed off to my young bloke. My old man used to say hamstrings are like elastic bands – the more you train them, the more they stretch until they eventually give way.
RB: And this doesn’t exactly surprise me, but I’ve been told by a few people you’re not the easiest sort of bloke to win an argument against…
NB: Look, if what I believe in is right, how could I ever lose? (laughs). Joey (Lenders) taught me a few things that always stayed with me, and one of them is “never apologise – it’s the first sign of weakness”. I’ve gone on with that for my whole life, but Joey has probably mellowed… after a couple of incidents a few years ago.
Not apologising, and never being wrong, are probably two of my worst traits it’d be fair to say. I’ll say I might’ve made a mistake, but I won’t apologise and I’ve been told off a bit for that (laughs).
I couldn’t remember any other speech Joey made, except the one about never apologising.
RB: That’s another thing I’ve heard about you, Turtle – you were never great at listening to your coaches, were you?
NB: No, it was just blah, blah, blah to me (laughs). I knew what I had to do. If I needed a bit of a tune-up, then so be it – I’d take it in – but I think most of us who played together knew our roles. Maybe I stood up a little bit when Muzza and Ravo (Raven) coached because they changed the game a bit for me.
I remember when I was coaching the twos – Muzza had gone up to Queensland and it was a ‘back to’ in 2003. I was addressing the players and he was standing behind me saying to me after “What the hell were you doing? You were trying to teach them things you’d never accept as a player!”
I wasn’t a very good coach, but you take something from what other coaches tried to teach you.
RB: While you were playing, Turtle, there was a period where a number of eventual club legends basically owned the B&F honours – the likes of Murray Payne, yourself, Lincoln Withers – in a strong era. In your mind, who was the best player you played with, and who was the best team mate you had?
NB: From ’83 to ’99 I had these team mates who’d won league B&Fs, or went on to win them. You had Tommy Cleary – league best and fairest; Kurt Oswald – league best and fairest; Joey Lenders – league best and fairest as a player coach; Chris Denereaz – league best and fairest; Chris O’Sullivan – league best and fairest; Lincoln, and Andy Soumilas – league best and fairests… but I can’t pick the best player I played with. They’re all great players, but Murray Payne never won a senior league best and fairest in his career. He just had this presence where he’d turn a game off his own boot. Wayne Carey never won a Brownlow either, I guess. I’d nearly say Muzza was the most influential player I played with.
As a team mate, my favourite might’ve been Gazza Vitiritti. If I got the ball, he’d know where to be so I’d kick it to him and he’d snap these goals, and do it well.
He just loved the club, too. He’s only 5’6” or something like that but gee he can drink some beer! (laughs). We’d love having a smoke and a drink after the game, but in grand finals he’d snag a couple of goals from the pocket in front of the crowd and away you’d go.
RB: Lincoln is one I wanted to ask you a little more about. His career is a thing of legend in this region. What was he like to play alongside?
NB: Lincoln was coming through in the ’93, ’94 grand finals and not in his prime yet, but later on in his career he’d win games off his own boot. He wasn’t a big talker or anything, but he was a bit of a silent assassin – like Andy (Soumilas). He had every skill in the book. Lincoln just had this incredible impact on games – he could move up forward or dominate on the ball.
Andy was a little bit later again, but watching him he just reminded me of Joey Lenders – moving in these little circles or confined spaces until he found the best option to give it to.
When you start getting tagged, you know you’re a good player – and he’s beaten them all his career. You grit your teeth on the boundary and think if you were out there you’d love to set something up to take that tagger out (laughs). I get wild now watching the likes of Dusty (Martin) getting tagged every week.
RB: Murray went on to play at a higher level at Frankston. Did you ever want to go further than you did, Turtle?
NB: If there was an opportunity early on I might’ve. There was one I remember where some scouts watched me play juniors, but once they saw my kicking style they ruled a line through me! (laughs). I got settled into the club atmosphere at Garfield with all my mates there and fell in love with the place.
Even now, I’ve got all the friends I want – I don’t need any others.
RB: Before we wrap this up mate, tell me about the Garfield ‘Star Search’…
NB: Which one? (laughs). There was about 10 of them!
It was like Red Faces – you’d come up with an act and you’d perform it and you had a couple of judges there too. It was a lot of fun, and the whole club was involved – the supporters and everything. We used to pack the hall, and it was just great fun.
My most memorable performance would have been as Kermit the Frog singing Rainbow Connection. I used to love the Muppets – it was one of my favourite shows, especially with the two old blokes up in the box.
RB: You’re not bad as a performer, are you? Is it true that you rate yourself as a dancer?
NB: I’m a bit wild. If you ever watch ‘Seinfeld’ and see Elaine Benes when she dances – I’m like that.
RB: Well, Turtle, I’ve done a few Beer O’Clocks over the years, but this one I won’t forget in a hurry. Cheers for the chat!
NB: No worries, thanks Russ.