Living legend of local sport

Liam Durkin

ANYONE who has played or been involved in sport in the Sale area during the past half century would have heard the name Kevin Hogan.

After all, it would be hard not to, as he has spent virtually his entire working life covering, commentating and taking photos of local sport since he arrived in Sale in the early 1960s, after his playing days in the VFL with South Melbourne finished.

His enthusiasm, dedication and sense of recall have elevated him to living legend status, and until very recently, the 84-year-old could still be found bright and early, camera in hand at any number of sporting occasions involving local teams.

Coming from a family of eight and hailing from Violet Town in the state’s north-east, Hogan’s passion for sport was evident from an early age, as he went to extreme lengths just to play a game of football.

“I use to throw my bike in with the mailman on a Friday night and go up and stay with a mate,” he said.

“On the Saturday we would play, then I’d ride from Benalla to Violet Town, which is like Rosedale to Sale, on the Sunday morning after the game.”

One could only imagine the thrill Hogan must have felt when he had his first brush with football royalty, which came when he was part of a schoolboys team which played in Tasmania during the 1940s.

The representative team Hogan was a part of were invited to watch a training session conducted by the great Roy Cazaly, something Hogan said he would never forget.

“We went to their training and Roy Cazaly had hurdles out on the ground and at the end of the hurdles he had a bloke with a ball on a fishing line,” he said.

“The players would be jumping these hurdles and the bloke with the ball would be flicking it up in the air and the last bloke had to catch it as he went over.

“This was to improve their skills.

“People said that Cazaly’s coaching was years ahead of everyone else, all the ideas he had.”

Hogan’s talent as a footballer began to be noted when a number of VFL club representatives travelled from Melbourne to meet the young rover.

“I had North Melbourne come and see me, they called into where I was working in Benalla,” he said.

“Collingwood also chased my brother Frank, who was two years younger, and wanted us to go there for cricket and footy.”

Despite the offers, Hogan said there was only really one club that he was ever going to play for, with his family’s connection to South Melbourne stemming back generations.

“My grandfather lived three blocks from the South ground, just around the road from a bakery where a lot of the imports from South Melbourne were working,” he said.

“He followed them for years and years and he’d tell stories of all the old champions.

“I listened to the ’45 grand final on the radio between South and Carlton, “The Bloodbath”, then went down to watch a few games South played in ’52 and ’53.”

Hogan made his debut for South Melbourne in 1954 and would go on to play more than 50 games up until 1960.

Playing in the same team as future Brownlow medallists Ron Clegg, Fred Goldsmith and Bob Skilton, Hogan said it was surreal to be playing alongside players he had idolised growing up.

“It was a dream come true because I was playing with and against guys I had photos of in my scrapbooks and here I was on the field with them,” he said.

“My first senior game was at Punt Rd Oval and I wore number 22, which I had right throughout my time at South.”

South Melbourne’s fortunes never reached any great heights during Hogan’s time, with the Bloods finishing in the bottom third of what was then a 12-team competition in every season from 1954 to 1960.

“Melbourne played in every grand final in the time I was in the VFL,” Hogan said.

“They just had an aurora of invincibility about them.

“Of a Sunday morning a lot of us used to go down to the hot sea baths and Norm and Len Smith, who coached Fitzroy, would come down and have a chat to us.”

Hogan did however experience some joy in the night series, in what was marketed as a consolation cup for teams that did not make the regular season finals.

“When the night footy started we won the first two of those,” Hogan said.

“We played St. Kilda in the first night game, and in The Sun they wrote ‘the social footy’s just about to start’.

“There was nothing social about it! There were bloody fights everywhere!

“There would be 40,000 people coming to watch our games, you could imagine 40,000 at the old Lake Oval (the capacity of what is now an athletics and soccer stadium is 12,000).”

In his time at South Melbourne, Hogan also had the good fortune of rubbing shoulders with two of the greatest Australian sportsman of all time, in former VFL footballer and test cricketer of the 1930s Laurie Nash, and world champion billiards player Walter Lindrum.

The outspoken Nash, who when asked who was the greatest footballer he had ever seen replied “I see him in the mirror every morning when I shave”, may well have justified this claim when he kicked 18 goals in a state game for Victoria.

“In 1957, I was sent to Moe to do a clinic with Nash and Walter Lindrum, and Walter was a great mate of Don Bradman’s, so I got to spend the day with them and some of the stories they told were just outstanding,” Hogan said.

“In my days at South, Laurie was there at the home games and all the guys connected to South Melbourne who were from around that 30s era said he was just a freak.”

Hogan’s time in the VFL also coincided with the career of Essendon’s legendary full forward John Coleman, whom Hogan rates as one of the best players he has ever seen.

Unfortunately for Hogan, he was denied the opportunity to play against Coleman, something he said was “one of the great disappointments”.

“I’d watched him in finals and he was just sensational, and I was looking forward to getting on the same ground as him three weeks before we played, but down he went and buggered his knee,” Hogan said.

“The way he use to fly for marks, the crowds would literally move from end to end just to watch him.”

As Hogan explained, football in the 1950s offered a stark contrast to today’s multi-million dollar industry, with only one coach managing the team from the boundary line, one umpire controlling the on field action, and players all working full time.

“The VFL in those days was more like country footy is now, it was still a pretty good standard, they say about the game being fast now, but it was still fast enough then because they were all pretty good athletes,” he said.

“The main difference is we only trained two nights a week, and now they’re fully paid professionals who are there every day.”

Hogan said things were a lot more laid back off the field as well.

“You got friendly with a lot of opposition teams because after every game both teams all went back together to the host team’s social club, the umpires and all.

“We only got paid 20 pound a week to play, so you had to have a job, I worked as a clerk at a mechanical institute.

“Some of the grounds were that bad they had to cancel matches if it rained too heavily, when I look at it now, they’re playing on bloody bowling greens!”

“It’s fair to say fans in those days were more tribal,” Hogan said.

He recalled a game involving some more than passionate Collingwood supporters.

“In a match in 1954 they needed to beat us to get in the finals and we ended up winning,” he said.

“After the game the officials said to us ‘just watch yourself coming off the ground because here come the women’, and they had their umbrellas and they were bloody whacking us!”

Another humorous story occurred when mass confusion reigned because there were three people with the name Kevin Hogan involved in football in Melbourne at the same time.

“There was a Kevin Hogan who wrote for The Sun, and one from Ballarat who played for Richmond and then me,” he said.

“The Kevin Hogan from The Sun got us together to write a story titled ‘three men and one name’.”

While some ex-footballers bemoan the current state of the game and say ‘it was better in our day’, Hogan does not share these thoughts.

“I still enjoy watching the game, when I look at Scott Pendlebury and what he does, where he weaves in and out of traffic so effortlessly, it’s unbelievable,” he said.

The connection to South Melbourne since the club’s relocation to Sydney has remained strong, with Hogan still answering the odd call from supporters.

“Every now and again someone sends me a footy card and I’ve got to sign it and send it back to them, you get them from all over the place,” he said.

“I was there when Sydney won the premiership in 2005 and to see so many people wearing red and white bawling their eyes out was amazing.”

Once his time in the ‘big smoke’ came to an end, Hogan made the life changing move to Sale in 1961.

A place he has called home ever since.

“At South Melbourne one of the families had a connection to Sale and word came back that Sale Football Club was looking for a coach,” he said.

“So I made contact and Kevin Stanley, who was the Sale secretary then, arranged for me to come up and meet the committee and they said ‘the jobs yours’.

“In my first year at Sale I was cleaned up against Bairnsdale and had a spleen taken out and was in the hospital for 10 days.

“A group of schoolkids at 545 all wrote letters to me, those kids would now be about 60!”

With the current facilities at Sale Oval dating back a number of decades, Hogan said what was around in his era was even more primitive.

“The social room was a hut that came in from the RAAF base, that was it,” he said.

Hogan played football for Sale during the early 1960s, before injuries intervened and he decided to turn his attention to other avenues.

“It was the end of an era at Sale, they’d won the premiership in ’54, ’55, ’57 and ’59, then I came in ’61 and all those players [that had played in premierships] had gradually disappeared.

“After I finished playing I coached juniors for 15 years and was still on the committee. I’ve been involved with the club every year since I’ve been here.

“A lot of work was put into junior sides and those players went onto play in Sale premiership sides in the ’70s.”

Throughout his time, Hogan also played with some of the greats of Gippsland League football.

“Bob Mason in the ruck for Sale, he won two league best-and-fairests. Melbourne chased him and chased him but he was just happy playing in the country,” he said.

“The standard in Latrobe Valley football has always been very good.”

As well as football, Hogan was also an accomplished cricketer, and helped reform the Sale Cricket Club.

“When I came, Sale Cricket Club was in recess, they’d been in recess for a long time, but the footballers wanted to get a side going, so we started up a footballers side in B grade,” he said.

“After two years we said ‘well, there’s no Sale Cricket Club, so why don’t we reform?’

One of the many highlights of his cricketing career came when he played against the touring Indian test team, which came to play at the old Yallourn Oval in the 1960s.

“We were going to play on the turf at Yallourn which was a lovely ground, but the whole area got flooded,” he said.

“The Indian boys walking around saw the ground alongside it, which was malthoid, and said ‘if you can find us some soft shoes, we’ll play you on that’.

“So within half an hour they had all the shoes they wanted.

“When the MCG was done up for the Olympics, we played on it the next year and Yallourn was comparable to that.”

Moving into the world of sports media, Hogan has since dabbled in print, radio and photography, although he said his maiden radio performance left him a little worse for wear.

“The first program I ever did I turned off all the gear after and said ‘that was dreadful!’

Since this slight hiccup, he has become a familiar voice on ABC Gippsland, and until recently, listeners would be introduced by voice over every Thursday morning to ‘the one and only Kevin Hogan’, for a half hour chat about all things happening in local sport.

Despite his work on the airwaves, Hogan said his preferred medium was print, and his work as the Gippsland Times sports photographer for more than 50 years has seen him take an estimated 100,000 photos in his time.

“In 1965 David Tulloch, who was then the editor of the Gippsland Times, came up to see me and asked me to start writing on the footy,” he said.

“Then the following year, they didn’t have anyone doing the sports photography and David said ‘we’ve got a camera here, you can be the photographer if you can get a lens for it’, so that’s how it all started.

“The first shots I did were a Sale versus Yallourn game at the Sale Oval in 1966.

“Sports photography was a passion of mine in school, but I never thought I’d be doing it to this extent.”

His contribution to sport, particular at Sale Football-Netball Club where he, along with his two sons are life members, was formally recognised with the naming of the Kevin Hogan Netball Facility in 2013.

Hogan has been a mainstay in netball circles since the sport became a part of the football club in the late 1990s.

“The netball involvement has been one of the best things I’ve done,” he said.

“The families are magnificent, there’s people at Sale that we would never have seen if it wasn’t for netball.”

Hogan said it was fulfilling to know that his work on the sporting landscape was appreciated by many and hoped community clubs would be able to continue to provide places for people to play, compete and socialise.

“When I arrived in Sale we had firsts and seconds football, and the thirds played on Sunday,” he said.

“Look at it now there’s four football teams, six netball teams, and one day they counted up there was about 80 volunteers.

“It’s been a great journey.”