By Nick Creely
In February this year, at an antique store in Tooradin, former Officer Football Club president Barry O’Loughlin made one hell of a discovery.
It was an army plaque, with the engraved words of ‘First Australian Logistic Support Group Vietnam, 1969 Aust Rules Premiers. B.Kelly.’
Little did he know that this plaque would hold so much significance and history for, not only himself, but his football club and his time as a former soldier.
Barry then set out to find who the plaque belonged to, its origins and present it to that person, or even the family – due to the significance of the item. Scouring through a number of Facebook pages, he was directed to Stan Middelton OAM, the official historian for the Vietnam Football League.
Upon contacting Stan – who immediately knew who this valuable item belonged to – Barry met with Brian Kelly and presented him the plaque at the Noble Park RSL just 10 days later.
But another twist – little to Barry’s knowledge – was that Brian, upon returning from Vietnam, played at Officer for a number of years alongside his brother from 1972.
“As a former soldier the plaque was something of great significance to me for what it represented,” Barry said.
“I had little knowledge of its origins or the competition itself but was determined to find out where it came from and return it to its rightful owner.
“Much to my surprise, Brian was a past player at Officer, which gave us a great deal to talk about, and when we discovered this fact I immediately invited Brian back to the club for our Life Members/VIP Luncheon where he had the opportunity to catch up with a number of people he played with and hadn’t seen for many years.
“It was a fantastic day and it was great to get some old faces back at the club, where Brian was member at the club prior to our amalgamation in 1977 where we changed our name to ROC.”
For Brian – who used to play full-back and had a reasonable torpedo on him – the plaque holds significant sentimental value; it reminds him of what he went through and the importance of sport during a testing time of his life.
”It’s all a bit of mystery how it appeared in an antique store in Tooradin. It must have become lost during a previous shift in house,” he explained.
“When I first sat down with Barry I was very surprised of his history and that we both seemed to know a lot of the same people, many of whom I was shocked to hear were still involved at the club.
“Playing footy was a bit of relief to the everyday army actives on a Sunday, and we were known as the Roosters.
“The plaque brings me right back to various issues that we experienced over there. I was only a young bloke back then at the age of 20 and it was my first trip overseas, so it certainly brings back a lot of memories, both good and bad.
“I thought I’d lost it forever (the plaque) so it was certainly quite special to get this piece of my history back and place it next to my other memorials from that era.
“I’d like to thank Barry for his passion towards the armed services and for taking the time to seek me out and return the plaque.”
This was one of many heart-warming stories from Officer’s annual VIP and Life Members luncheon on Saturday, with approximately 70 people coming together for one of the most important days on the Kangaroos’ calendar.
The packed out R.G. Porter Social Rooms were buzzing, with Stan Middleton OAM, a Vietnam Army veteran and the official historian for the Vietnam Football League, the guest speaker on the day.
Stan gave a detailed account of the league, how it was formed, the camaraderie involved, and highlighted a number of players who would later go on to play league football upon their return, making for a very competitive level of football.
The event was also attended by La Trobe MP Jason Wood, Cardinia Shire councillor Brett Owen, and AFL Outer East commissioner Ryan Ford, as well as Brian Kelly, a past Officer player and premiership star in the Vietnam Football League.
Among other things, members were updated on the many developments and projects underway at the facility in addition to the club’s current position by both club president Nick McLennan and senior coach Doug Koop.
McLennan told the Gazette that it’s one of the most anticipated social days for his football club on the calendar.
“The luncheon was a fantastic event and is our way of recognising our past players and life members whilst also thanking our partners and affiliates,” he said.
“I always say that you won’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from, so for me this day is a great opportunity to hear from those who have been around the club for many years.
“Local football has evolved over the last few years and we’re very thankful for the support we get from the local community, but in particular from our partners and affiliates.
“The luncheon is just one way of us saying thank you to them, because without their support our players wouldn’t have the facilities or services including coaches and trainers to the standard that they currently have.”
After the luncheon, the Kangaroos’ senior football side enjoyed a strong 140-point win against Warburton Millgrove as it looks to build on its form ahead of the finals.