Ian Wilson: Werribee and 'The Big V'

03 April 2024

On April 6, the VFL State Team will play a SANFL State Team in a traditional interstate clash in Glenelg.

It’s no surprise that eight Werribee players, the most of any VFL team, have been selected to train for a spot. Dom Brew, Nathan Cooper, Kye Declase, Hudson Garoni, Nick Hayes, Jack Henderson, Sam Paea, and Luis Pinnuck will all be pushing for selection, and we wish them well.

The club asked if I could write a piece on state footy from a personal perspective. Unfortunately, the closest I got to a VFA Rep game was pre-season 1994 versus the Northern Territory at Victoria Park.

I made the initial squad, but the coach Bernie Sheehy left me out as he thought I was too old and slow. He knew me too well from his three years as an assistant coach at Werribee and believed quite rightly that I had no hope of catching the indigenous boys in the NT side.

I did have some experience some ten years prior whilst in the army based two hours west of Brisbane and playing footy for Coorparoo in the QAFL competition.

I was in my early 20s and weighing in at a lithe 72kg, I played in three games for Qld, versus Collingwood, NSW, and Fitzroy. It was a huge thrill, but I remember feeling a bit overawed playing Fitzroy. 

The legendary Bernie ‘Superboot’ Quinlan kicked six before half time as Fitzroy systematically destroyed us. It was his sixth goal that I remember most.

55m out on his non-preferred left, he kicked the goal around the corner post high, like shelling peas. Stunned at the man’s enormous skill, I momentarily went from a participant in the game to a spectator and warmly applauded his achievement from the centre of the ground. 

As I walked back into the forward line to take up position for the next centre bounce, the runner came out and said, “the coach would appreciate it if you wouldn’t applaud the opposition goals…thanks”.

To get a real sense of what it’s like to wear the Big V, I’ve caught up with former Werribee champion and Tom Gribble’s uncle, Stephen Sells. I asked ‘Sellsy’ a few questions regarding his time in the Big V during the late 80’s.

IW – When did you represent the Big V?
SS – 1988. Both myself and Greg Hitch who was a fine player were selected from when we were still in Division 2.

IW – Who did you play and where?
SS – Tassie at Bellerive Oval, now Blundstone Arena.

IWHow did it feel to be selected?
SS - After the initial surprise it was very exciting. I felt honoured and humbled to be given the opportunity to represent the VFA and our Club, being part of such a wonderful experience, alongside a terrific coaching group, talented footballers, and fantastic bunch of blokes whom I had great respect for. I missed the following year due to injury and would have loved to be part of that as it was against the WAFL @ Subiaco Oval where I had played just a few years earlier in a premiership with ‘Subi’ in 1986.

IW - What was it like to train with your regular opponents?
SS - Good question however being in Div. 2 we did not play against them that year but did in subsequent years when we were elevated to Div. 1. I really enjoyed training with and getting to know my opponents, eventually that is after the initial sessions when I didn’t know what to expect, given they were opponents who we mostly respect but we like to beat right? competitive all the way!! There were some big names amongst them as there always is in each era, so I felt humbled again to be a part of the squad. It became more comfortable as training progressed & looked forward to each session as a result. You can learn so much in that environment and from those around you when you come together like that.

IW - How did the game compare with a normal home and away game?
SS – It was certainly another level. A lot of hype & intensity with so much pride on the line wanting to serve your league, club & all those involved to the very best of your ability & not let anyone down.

IW - What was the result?
SS - We unfortunately went down on the day by around 20 odd points I think which was extremely disappointing. We gave our all, but the Tassie Devils proved too good and handled the inglorious conditions much better than us. Hopped off the plane and it felt about 15 degrees colder than where we came from and it was worse when we hit the ground, rain, sleet, wind, bloody freezing but we knew what to expect so no excuses. Then on top of that the parochial Taswegian crowd of course!

IW - Any standout memories from the experience?
SS - To be coached by the legendary Terry Wheeler was an absolute highlight. What a motivator he was. A player’s man who you could see would have bought the best out of you every time. He instilled much belief & confidence. I would love to have played under him. You have to ask others who regularly played under him about their experience but for that one and only match had me jumping out of my skin! It wasn’t one of my better games. I gave it my all as did the whole team and we never stopped trying but was a real slog, stop/start, re scrimmages, packs, etc., with rarely any flow, given the conditions. To have played alongside the late, great Barry Round (what a wonderful man he was) and the like was a real highlight. I could mention each player individually, they were amazing both on & off the park and made you feel extremely welcome and a big part of the whole experience. As stated earlier I felt most humbled to be part of this whole group & represent all parties concerned. We went back to the Clarence Clubrooms who hosted us with Billy Picken the coach at the time. They were fantastic! Another great memory was the bond we all formed. Sharing some quality time with these guys, although beaten & disappointed we didn’t achieve the result we were after, we still had some fun together. I was fortunate to share a room with Willy’s Tony Pastore. What a ripping bloke & brilliant footballer, as they all were!!As we well know the game, we all love brings us together and forms many friendships, connections along the way, some lifelong, others in that window of time…. you cannot buy that camaraderie & mateship. Never forgotten - Forever treasured!!

IW – Thanks heaps ‘Sellsy’ and we look forward to catching up with you as always in season 2024.

To all the Tigers who have been selected in the squad for the SA game, we wish you all the best. Hopefully these interstate tussles can become a regular fixture as they once were. Go the Vics and Go the Tiges!

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