Doug Gott – deep connections to football

August 8, 2017 by
Filed under: Category 1 

Football was in the blood.  His Mum’s side of the family.  Doug Gott was 12, riding his bike up Victoria Road to Northcote Park Football Club in 1962 for his first year of club football.  He was tall for his age, rangy with a loping stride.

Doug Gott in full flight for Collingwood.

Gott followed South Melbourne.  He had no choice.  Both his parents grew up in South Melbourne and supported the Swans.  His uncles had deep connections to football, three of them with South Melbourne.  Football was a part of life.  Saturday mornings, the family would visit grandmothers and aunties then go to the football.

 

‘I used to watch Bobby Skilton, Brian McGowan and John Herriot, John Rantall and all those guys,’ Gott said.  Skilton was his hero.

 

Into his teenage years, Gott played football and cricket for Northcote Park.  Each year was marked by two clichéd seasons, football and cricket.  Hours were spent at school, after school and on weekends playing with mates.  It was the sports-master at Northcote High, Alec Weston, who recognised Gott’s football potential at 16 and suggested he play for Ivanhoe Amateurs.

 

‘Play in the under 19s and you might be able to make seniors,’ Weston said.

 

The suggestion created issues.  Gott thought playing seniors was fanciful.  He never felt he was that good.  To transfer to Ivanhoe Amateurs, he needed a clearance from Northcote Park.  When Gott applied for a clearance, he learned a hard lesson about club administration.

 

‘They knocked me back,’ Gott said.

 

Unperturbed, he went to Ivanhoe Amateurs without a clearance for the 1967 season.  It meant he could never play for Northcote Park, or any club in that league again.  Without belief in his ability, Gott thought he was taking a risk.

 

‘I played about five or six games in the under 19s and four or five games in the seniors,’ Gott said.  ‘They were in A-grade then.  The rest of the time I was injured.  I had a whack to my back and I was out for about four weeks.’

 

At the end of the season, Gott played cricket for Collingwood.  His lope suited his bowling, right arm fast.  Later that summer, Keith Stackpole Snr chatted to Collingwood’s football coach, Bob Rose as they watched Gott play cricket.

 

‘Doug’s playing for Ivanhoe Amateurs,’ Stackpole said.  ‘Why don’t you get him down to play the practice games?’

 

‘We can do that for sure,’ Rose said.

 

In 1968, Gott played a few practice matches for Collingwood’s reserves.  By the end of pre-season, he was playing practice matches in the senior side.

 

Recruitment by Collingwood brought out the skeletons in the family’s football closet.  Only Collingwood people don’t hate Collingwood.  Four of Gott’s uncles played VFL football, none of them with Collingwood.

 

Len Crane (145 games) played for South Melbourne, Hawthorn and Victoria.  Jack Crane (122 games) played with Essendon, Richmond and North Melbourne.  Tom Crane (8 games) played with South and North while and George Bryce (26 games) played for South Melbourne.  The uncles gathered around Gott, giving him grief.

 

Bloody Collingwood,’ the uncles said.  ‘We hate Collingwood.’

 

It was traditional passion, but the hate didn’t last.  Later, an uncle said Gott had found a good club.  ‘If you do the right thing, they’ll do the right thing by you,’ the uncle said.

 

At Collingwood, Gott became friends with Ross ‘Twiggy’ Dunne.  They had a connection.  Dunne also supported South Melbourne as a kid.  His dad owned a business in South Melbourne.  Dunne and Gott reminisced about South’s champs as they trained.

 

Gott debuted in 1969 against Melbourne in round 14 at the MCG.  He spent most of the match on the bench before coming on in the last quarter.  Gott was tall, 191cm but slender at 85kg.  He still ran in a lope but was deceptively quick.

 

Initially, Gott picked up Ross Dillon in a back pocket before getting switched to the back flank where he shadowed John Townsend.  Collingwood won by two points.

 

‘They were just like whippets,’ Gott said.  ‘They were just go go go, ran me ragged.  I was exhausted by the end of the game.  I’d only been on for about 20 minutes.’

 

Gott played four games in his debut year.  Collingwood finished on top and lost both their finals.  In 1970, Collingwood finished on top again.  Gott played just one game, in round three.

 

‘I twinged my left knee,’ Gott said.  ‘I don’t know what I did.  I couldn’t get it right.  It just kept locking on me.’

 

The knee injury befuddled the doctors, but in 1970, knee injuries were perplexing.  There was talk of surgery, but the surgeon didn’t want to open up Gott’s knee if rest would cure the problem.  His season was over.

 

In the 1970 grand final, Collingwood led Carlton by 44-points at half time.  Gott remembers sitting with his father at the MCG.  Nearby Collingwood fans were drinking champagne and claiming the game, we finally got there.

 

‘I wouldn’t count on it,’ Gott said to his father.  Peter McKenna had been accidentally knocked into Sunday by Des Tuddenham in the second quarter.  Gott recalls being worried by McKenna’s confusion.  He remembers all those goals Carlton kicked in the third quarter.  The unlosable was eventually lost, by 10-points.

 

‘It was a turnaround that wasn’t expected but I wasn’t surprised,’ Gott said.  The heartache has never dissipated.  The heartache would continue.

 

In 1971, Gott played two games, round nine and 11.  ‘I came in and went out again,’ he said.  ‘I wasn’t pleasing the coach.  I didn’t perform to what he wanted.’

 

One of Gott’s favourite football memories occurred in round nine.  Collingwood hosted South Melbourne at Victoria Park.  Bob Skilton was playing his fifteenth and final year with South.  As a kid, Gott had walked around with Skilton’s number 14 on his back.

 

‘To actually play in a side against him was unbelievable,’ Gott said.

 

His career changed when Rose was replaced by Neil Mann in 1972.  Under Mann, Gott roamed in defence, a nullifier in the air and good on the ground.  After just two games in 1971, he played like he owned his spot.  In the next four seasons, Gott played 77 games.

 

Collinwood finished third in 1972, on top in 1973 and fourth in 1974.  Of six finals played across those seasons, Collingwood lost five.  Gott played in all six finals.

 

Against Richmond in the 1973 preliminary final, Collingwood led by six goals at half time.  Royce Hart came on and started kicking goals.  Again Collingwood blew their lead, losing by seven points.  The Colliwobbles were in full force.

 

Gott believes Collingwood succumbed to the pressure of finals.  No matter the lead, they never felt safe.  His explanation points to total breakdown of team values and discipline.

 

‘It was probably a bit of a hangover from 1970,’ Gott said.  ‘You had it in the back of your mind, why can’t we win these games?  The harder you tried, sometimes the worse you became.  As players, as individuals, we did things we didn’t have to do.  We just had to play as a team.’

 

 

Representative cricket

 

 

Despite playing for Collingwood, Gott played club cricket every summer.  In that era, footballers with cricket talent adhered to the two season rule.  In the 1973-74 summer, Gott’s cricket career intensified, his bowling noticed by Victorian selectors.

 

He played four first-class games for Victoria, including a game against New Zealand.  Gott preferred cricket to football.  He chose football because it paid a wage.  It was a weekend pursuit.  Representative cricket was different.  It required days off work and in 1973-74, there was little money in cricket.

 

‘It was nothing like today,’ Gott said.  ‘Football and cricket were part-time.  You were not a professional, you were semi-professional if you could call it that.’

 

Gott took 9 wickets at an average of 45.33 for Victoria.  He made 33 runs across three innings but never attained an average because he never got out.

 

Playing at first-class level affirmed his love for cricket.  If cricket wasn’t such a financial void, he might’ve quit football.  But when summer turned to autumn, he went back to Collingwood.

 

In 1975, Murray Weideman replaced Mann as coach.  Again, Collingwood made the finals but were eliminated by Richmond.  In 1976, Collingwood finished last.  Weideman quit.  Tommy Hafey was appointed.

 

‘Two years before the Weed came we had the nucleus of a lot of good players,’ Gott said.  ‘We finished on top under Mann and all of a sudden we went down.’

 

Gott said 1977 was different.  Changes were made.  New players, new drills.  Hard, intense running.  Hafey implored his players to kick long.

 

‘We used to play a short game,’ Gott said.  ‘Hafey said just kick long and we’re in the forward line.’

 

Hafey preached simplicity.  The players responded.  But cricket interfered with Gott’s season.  He played cricket deep into summer and wasn’t ready for football until round seven.  Then he played 13 games in the reserves.  He didn’t break into the senior team until round 21.  Gott ended up playing four games in 1977, which included two finals and the drawn grand final.

 

Gott’s first VFL grand final ended ten minutes into the last quarter, when North’s John Cassin kicked into the pocket.  Gott was backing into the pack, arms raised in anticipation of a mark.  Arnold Briedis flew across in front of Gott.  Phil Baker and Kevin Worthington collided with Gott and Briedis.  As the pack collapsed, Briedis somehow had taken a mark.

 

Gott was on the ground, in obvious difficulty.

 

‘There was a mingling of legs and my leg got trapped,’ Gott said.  ‘My body went one way and the leg went the other.  When I grabbed hold of my leg, I could feel my knee cap on the side of my leg.  I put it back on top of my knee.  I couldn’t move my leg.  I couldn’t lift my leg.’

 

Gott immediately held his right arm up.  As Briedis went back for his kick, Len Thompson was signalling to the bench, waving his arms about, calling for a stretcher.  When the trainers got to Gott, they said what’s wrong?

 

‘I’ve done something to my knee cap,’ Gott said.  As he waited for the stretcher, he writhed on the ground, keeping his left leg straight.  A trainer carrying a white towel patted him on the hip while holding Gott’s left hand.  A small man ran a canvas stretcher onto the ground.

 

Paramedics helped set the stretcher in place.  Gott was lifted six inches off the ground and put on the stretcher.  As he was walked off, he had his head in his hands.  When he neared the player’s race, Gott’s head lolled down, off the stretcher.  A trainer in a Hard Yakka tracksuit cradled Gott’s head.

 

‘I cracked the knee cap and dislocated it,’ Gott said.  ‘Shattered the ligaments on the side.’

 

Collingwood blew another big lead, 27-points at three quarter time.  The grand final was drawn, requiring a replay.  Gott is the only player from the drawn grand final who missed out on playing in the replay.  He never played senior football again.

 

The injury, a bad one, took five months of recovery.  Gott was in rehab for four months.  Three times a week, Andrew Ireland picked him up and drove him to hospital for physio sessions.  Gott missed the cricket season.  He missed playing cricket.

 

In 1978, he came back in the reserves in round seven against Carlton at Victoria Park.  His left knee was strapped.  It was a wet day.  Des English, then a young Carlton defender, slid in the mud while contesting the ball.  His head collided with Gott’s right knee, cracking the knee cap.

 

Gott’s last two games had resulted in two cracked knee caps, major knee injuries.  ‘I had to keep playing because I had 97 games and I wanted to play 100,’ he said.  ‘I needed one more senior game for life membership.’

 

He played out the year in the reserves, with both knees strapped as the season neared its end.  Gott was playing well but couldn’t break into the seniors.  After another good performance in the last round against Melbourne, there was talk among teammates of selection for the finals.

 

‘I doubt it,’ Gott said.

 

His doubts were right.  While the seniors lost the 1978 preliminary final to North, Gott said there was little communication with Collingwood officials about his future.  He was planning an overseas tour.

 

Gott was 27.  His three-year contract, signed in 1976, was finished.  The contract had a caveat.  If he played one game in 1978, Collingwood had to honour the final year financial agreement.  One more game would also result in automatic life membership for ten years of service.

 

‘If I played one game I would’ve got a decent sum,’ Gott said.  One more game for a payout and life membership to confirm his dedication.  Instead, he walked away without either.

 

‘I went away with a little bit of bitterness,’ Gott said.  ‘I got over it.’

 

In 1979, Gott took his disappointment on a plane bound for Ireland.  He went to Dublin to play cricket for an all-Jewish team.  It was former Australian Test player Julian Wiener who recommended Gott to the club’s administrators.

 

‘It was a good break from footy,’ Gott said.  ‘I forgot all about footy.’

 

He spent five months in Dublin.  His club had their best ever year.  His teammates were fantastic to the Australian import.  The socialising and sportsmanship was amazing.  When Gott boarded a plane for the long haul home, he figured Collingwood weren’t going to welcome him with open arms.

 

‘I came back, that was it,’ Gott said.  ‘I finished my career.’

 

In 1980, Gott went back to Ivanhoe Amateurs and played two more years.  When the club was elevated to A-grade, Gott retired.  He was training one night a week and couldn’t commit to two nights.

 

It was Twiggy Dunne who brought Gott back to Collingwood in 1982.  Dunne wanted to know if Gott was interested in helping develop the kids in the under 19s.

‘I did that for nearly ten years,’ Gott said.

 

In 1991, the last year of the under 19s competition, Collingwood honoured Gott with life membership.  It was recognition of service, 97 games, 26 goals and ten years of coaching.  Gott transferred to the Northern Knights, helping develop teenagers for three more years.

 

Why Cricket instead of football

 

The question is simple.  Why cricket instead of football?  Gott said the answer is simple, and it’s all about involvement.

 

‘Cricket was always my first choice,’ Gott said.  ‘Football was something I played and I enjoyed very much.  But cricket was something you did on your own.  You bowled and you batted.  You didn’t rely on anyone else, apart from catches.  If you batted it was up to you if you stayed in or you didn’t.’

 

It has always been hard to break into Australia’s state and national teams.  In the seventies, Australia’s cricket administrators were notoriously tight with match payments.  Gott’s game against New Zealand actually cost him money.  Having to take Friday and Monday off work, he was docked $27.50 for each missed day.  He earned $50 playing four days for Victoria.  It cost him $5 to play against New Zealand.

 

‘When I played football it didn’t cost me anything,’ Gott said.  ‘They were paying me.’

 

Gott described himself as a nullifier.  He played as he ran, as if in a lope, but those long arms often brought the ball to ground, where he was good at finding it at his feet.  He could go forward and find the goals or pick up a resting ruckman or ruck-rover.

 

At 67, Gott is still lean.  Golf helps keep him active.  Unsurprisingly, he follows Collingwood.  Football was in his blood.  His uncles said if Gott did the right thing by Collingwood, they would do the right thing by him.

 

Eventually, Collingwood did…

 

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