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Fond memories for former Echuca resident

Four-time Melbourne premiership player John Lord jun. treasures his time spent in Echuca, still calling the town home.

GEORDIE COWAN May 28, 2014 3:29am

John Lord jun.


Among other things, John Lord jun. wants it to be recognised that he kicked the first senior goal in Echuca South Football Club’s history.

It may have been his team’s only major in a 30-goal flogging, but he kicked it.

Lord only stayed one year at South, before going back to play at Echuca and eventually went on to play 132 games with Melbourne Football Club, becoming a four-time premiership player in the process.

He came to Echuca as a boy after World War II, when his dad, John Lord sen., took over the newsagency and Lord became the self-proclaimed ‘‘world’s best paper boy’’.

‘‘I used to be up at the Riv Herald every morning with a few of my mates, watch them finish the printing of the paper on the old printing machine and off we’d go and deliver it,’’ he said.

‘‘The Melbourne papers would turn up at about 9 o’clock in the morning and of course by then we were at school, so you had to deliver them after school.

‘‘I often think I probably knew every house in Echuca at one stage.

‘‘And it wasn’t riding bikes on concrete footpaths, it was mud — your bike would get clogged up, the bindis would get you and you’d be walking back for miles.’’

Despite only living in the town for less than 10 years, Lord has fond memories of it and he still calls it his home town.

‘‘I’ve always considered Echuca my home and yet I was born in Melbourne,’’ Lord said.

‘‘Dad went to war when he was aged 39 — far too old, I think, to go — but he was militaristic and all his brothers had gone to the First World War.

‘‘Two uncles won military medals — one on the Western Front and one at Gallipoli — and that’s what started Dad.

‘‘He tried to get into the First World War, but he was only 15 or 16.

‘‘And so the stoic person in the whole family has been my mum (Mary). I admire Mum so much.

‘‘The fact that she went on to live to 94 and went out giving Mark Latham a mouthful just shows how astute and competent she was.’’

Lord said it was a tough time during the war, with his dad away for five years and only one spell at home in the middle for about six weeks.

Arriving in Echuca as an eight-year-old, Lord attended Echuca State School and spent his weekends — aside from delivering newspapers — chopping up wood in the mornings and going out rabbiting.

‘‘We had ferrets on our bike with boxes and came back with the rabbits. We’d skin the rabbits and you used to get 10c for that,’’ he said.

‘‘I remember diving off the wharf into the water — and subsequently finding out it was only about six feet deep — but we all did it.

‘‘I couldn’t swim, so I had to teach myself to swim so we could swim across the river.’’

Sporting-wise, he played everything. Tennis, cricket and, of course, football.

‘‘I grew up in that hero worship and when we played kick-to-kick, I was (Collingwood player) Bill Twomey, because some other kid had John Coleman,’’ he said.

He played his first football match as an early teenager for Echuca High against Echuca Tech — one of only two official football games for the year.

Going to Echuca Football Club first, where his dad was president for a time, his local heroes were the Kenna family.

‘‘They were just marvellous,’’ Lord said.

‘‘Morrie Kenna, Josh Kenna, Frank Kenna, Kevin Kenna — all great footballers.

‘‘Kevin was silky smooth, Frank was too. Morrie was just a gentle giant and a lovely man and Josh would have made league footy if he had a go at it.’’

Lord can remember virtually all of the 1950 Echuca team — ‘‘but I get lost at the back line’’ — and he went on to play for a couple of years with the reserves team.

‘‘I used to love that, because we were in the Bendigo league and we used to go away in the bus and they gave us 20c at Bendigo to buy a pie before we came home,’’ he said.

He then went to Echuca South for a year before returning to Echuca, where he only ever played two games of football.

‘‘The first one was against Rochester in Moama and I was on the half-forward flank and I got the obligatory whack behind the ears from one of the Rochy guys,’’ he said.

‘‘The next minute I hear a ruckus behind me and here’s Morrie Kenna with about three Rochester guys and Morrie’s tried to square up.

‘‘I learned later Morrie reckoned that was about equal, he and three Rochy players.

‘‘The second game was against Eaglehawk in Bendigo and if we won it, we were in the finals.

‘‘Blow me down if I marked not far out from goal in the dying minutes of the game two points down or something.

‘‘Of course I can win it and become a schoolboy hero, but I miss it.’’

The following year he left school and worked at Elder Smith’s, who sent him to Rochester, Mortlake and then Lismore.

‘‘When I first started at Elder Smith’s, I spent two weeks in Melbourne and Dad was a great mate with (former Melbourne captain-coach) Bert Chadwick,’’ Lord said.

‘‘He asked him to look after me and Melbourne let me train with the firsts one night and signed me up to play in the thirds the following Saturday.

‘‘Now I don’t think I had done enough to warrant this other than the fact Dad was mates with Bert Chadwick.

‘‘But I played with the thirds and that locked me into Melbourne.’’

Lord then went away with Elders, but Geelong pursued his signature after he started playing well at Lismore.

‘‘Melbourne made me play in a practice match the following year and the story goes (captain) Noel McMahon was sent out to see if I was tough enough,’’ he said.

‘‘Apparently he whacked me once and I just got up and kept playing and then he whacked me again and I then turned on him.

‘‘And as I say, thank God I missed, because he would’ve killed me.’’

John sen. had also played 24 games with Melbourne in 1921-23, before joining St Kilda for another 30 games.

‘‘Dad went on to play with Victoria after joining St Kilda, so there was a little bit of feeling that ‘we let him go, so we’re not going to let you go’,’’ Lord said.

The then 19-year-old was then called up for national service for six months and became extremely fit, only to be called back to play in Melbourne’s reserves semi-finals and grand final, to his surprise.

‘‘I dominated those games because I was so fit and that started my 10 years at Melbourne,’’ Lord said.

Entering an extremely successful time at the Demons, Lord went on to play in premierships in 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964.

‘‘Looking back on it, you don’t fully appreciate it,’’ he said.

‘‘I thought at one stage every footballer should play in a premiership side. It’s terrific.

‘‘But then we wanted to play in another win.

‘‘People used to say to me, ‘which one was the best premiership’, and I’d say ‘the next one’.

‘‘Another line I have is, I think I’m the only guy to win five premierships and I’ve never made a team of the century anywhere.

‘‘Echuca South never claimed me, Echuca never claimed me, Lismore’s never claimed me.’’

Lord came to Melbourne as a ruckman, but was asked to play as centre half-back because they identified him as an ideal replacement for Geoff McGivern, who was set to retire.

‘‘I’d never played centre half-back in my life,’’ he said.

‘‘I did take the first couple of years there, but it’s a frustrating position because it’s a negative thing, you can’t make the play.

‘‘Eventually I got into ruck and centre half-forward, which I enjoyed a lot more.’’

Playing all his career under legendary coach Norm Smith, Lord had nothing but praise for his leader.

‘‘A lot has been written about Smithy and all of it was pretty true,’’ he said.

‘‘He was a great man.

‘‘Smithy’s record is unsurpassed in so many ways.’’

Lord also has fond memories of his first senior game in 1957, when Melbourne played Fitzroy.

‘‘The dressing rooms there had an indoor alleyway to the Fitzroy rooms,’’ he said.

‘‘I have to say (former Fitzroy star) Dougy Nicholls was loved by everybody, but he came storming into our dressing room.

‘‘Norm Smith’s welcoming him with open arms, but Dougy’s just said, ‘no, I’ve come to smell the gum leaves’.

‘‘He just came up and wanted to see me. He was great.’’

Lord knew Nicholls from his time in Echuca, where Nicholls would often travel to town to get John sen. to come to Cumeroogunja, south of Barham, to put on shows for the Aborigines there.

‘‘So I got to know Dougy very early in life and I remember one New Year’s eve, the celebration in Echuca used to be a big bonfire in Echuca South on the plains,’’ Lord said.

‘‘Up there was Mum and Dad, Sir Doug Nicholls and his wife and Sir Bert Chadwick and his wife.

‘‘The mayor, or ‘the Lord mayor’ as dad used to say, and two knights of the realm at the Echuca bonfire.’’

John sen. was the equal youngest member of 12 children born in 1899 and was trained as a secretary at the railways.

Part of that role was to be a shorthand typist and, when he signed up for World War II and got to the Middle East, someone knew of his talents and was directed towards headquarters.

‘‘He became General (Thomas) Blamey’s shorthand typist during the war,’’ Lord said.

Lord said his father also met General de Gaulle during his time in the Middle East, when de Gaulle would come to get supplies from the Australians.

Lord’s mother, Mary, originated from Castlemaine and then Bendigo before moving to Melbourne.

John sen. returned from the war with a back injury and, after initially being selected for the occupation forces in Japan after the war, he injured his back once again and started to look to take over newsagencies.

Once in Echuca, John sen. spent a long time on the Echuca council and became mayor for three years.

The undoubted highlight of his time in charge was when HM Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, visited in 1954.

‘‘He was the only returned serviceman on the council and they got him to stay on,’’ Lord said.

‘‘The mayoral robes were tailored for him.

‘‘The Queen, I can remember that day so well.

‘‘Dad was fantastic, but Mum, she looked a million dollars that day.’’

Since Lord finished his football career, he worked in the media for many years with 3XY, Channel 10 and Channel 7, before retiring in Melbourne.

His brother, Stephen, still lives in Echuca while his sisters, Leslie and Mary Ruth are in Yackandandah and Brisbane respectively.

‘‘I’ve always claimed Echuca as home even though in the full context I probably only spent eight or nine years of my life there.

‘‘I only ever remember it fondly.’’

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