By sports editor Russell Bennett
Piece by piece, the origins of Lang Lang Football Club’s identity are being discovered by two men from vastly different generations of its fabric.
Renowned author and legendary former Pakenham Gazette football writer Bob Utber, 79, and Lachlan Barwick, 23, have put the call out to the public for help in their quest to piece together the history of their home club.
Utber, who is originally from Lang Lang but now lives in Mildura, is writing a book on the Tigers – set to be officially launched at the opening of the club’s new facility in Caldermeade, which is expected to take place in readiness for the 2020 Ellinbank and District Football League season.
He and Barwick are already well advanced in their quest to document every senior game the club has played – from the early 1900s to 2018 – and are trying to establish a record of every senior player who’s ever played for the club.
It’s truly a mammoth undertaking, but they’re up for the task.
It’s their aim to close a chapter on the club’s history when it leaves its current home at the showgrounds, and open a new one at what will be a state of the art facility at Caldermeade.
In piecing together their club’s history, Utber and Barwick have already made the trip into the Gazette’s Pakenham offices and searched intently through the archives – looking for anything and everything they possibly could to help paint the picture.
As they go, puzzle pieces of the Tigers’ past have continued to fall into place.
“I’ve researched all the early years, when it comes to our players, and I’ve got 600 names already,” Utber, a former Lang Lang Football Club president and player, said.
“That’s just from 1902 up until the early 1950s.”
Barwick – who has taken on a kind of de-facto club historian role – explained that from about the 1970s, records of the club’s achievements started to become more readily available through avenues such as local papers – and not just the Gazette.
“It’s more about the early generations,” he said.
Utber knew that when he initially saw an honour board at the club that began in 1967, he had to do everything in his power to shine a light on the past in the decades prior.
That past also included his father, who was a club secretary.
Barwick explained that when he and Utber first started their incredible project two years ago, the club didn’t even have a board honouring the full list of its life members.
But that was just the beginning of a series of incredible events that they’d uncover.
“In 1922, Lang Lang and Kooweerup were in a league with Dandenong, Berwick, Springvale, and Pakenham – and Lang Lang won the premiership,” Utber said of the former Berwick District Football Association (BDFA).
“And I often tell the story of these trains running on a Saturday when we played in the Korumburra League (the Korumburra-Lang Lang Football Association, in which Lang Lang won the 1936 premiership) and they’d head our way from Tooradin and Lang Lang and Kooweerup would both play at home or away on the same day, so we’d all be on the same train going to play against Korumburra or Lang Lang and vice versa.
“We’d also have blokes riding their bikes from Nar Nar Goon and even Pakenham to come and play with us. It was just extraordinary what went on, and this is what so many people wouldn’t have a clue about.”
And that is still just scratching the surface of what Utber and Barwick have pieced together.
“There was a time when players would get a lift in the back of the club president’s cattle truck just to get to games,” Utber explained.
“There was one day back when Kooweerup was playing a game against Lang Lang and one of the two horses that went on a dray (cart) to drive the players around just didn’t turn up, so they decided to walk to Lang Lang. They walked there, won the game, and walked back home again.
“These are incredible stories of what footy was all about.”
And then there was a famous day in the 1960s when the whole Lang Lang side was reported at once. Utber was president at the time.
“We all had to go up to Bunyip,” he explained.
“They had to move the tribunal into the hall because there was the whole group involved.
“One of the ladies at the club had attacked Frosty Miller with an umbrella – that’s what started it. I don’t know why we all got reported, but we did!”
The book will contain a chronological history of the Lang Lang Football Club.
And that history has some dark chapters.
“One of the things that really got to me when researching this was that two of our players, the Jackson boys, were beheaded by the Japanese in World War II,” Utber said.
“I played with their brother.
“We should have some sort of trophy at Lang Lang to acknowledge these people, but we don’t. There are all sorts of stories, such as these, that keep coming out.”
Sadly, many would be unaware of the Lang Lang players who went on to play league football in the VFL – because of the missing pages in the club’s known history.
Much of that history was documented not only the Gazette, but also in a range of local papers of bygone eras – publications including the ‘Lang Lang Guardian’ and ‘Kooweerup Sun’.
“With the new sporting complex at Caldermeade, we’re hoping this (book) will close the chapter on 120 years at the old showgrounds as we start recording some history at the new ground in the new era,” Barwick explained, while adding that he’s already visited the local historical society to track down as much memorabilia as possible.
He and Utber hope to have it displayed in a special cabinet in the pavilion of the new Caldermeade facility once it’s officially opened.
In the meantime, Barwick will continue to piece together his club’s history. He currently has at least partial records of every game Lang Lang has played from 1900 to 2018 – including goal-kickers and best players.
The task now, is to identify all the club’s senior players. All of them.
Utber and Barwick are trying to make contact with as many relatives of former Lang Lang players or officials as possible – wherever they may be throughout Victoria, or indeed the rest of the country.
Anyone with information that could help the cause is encouraged to email Bob Utber on firstname.lastname@example.org or call (03) 5021 0887.