FOR Graham Roberts, family has always come first.
But a close second comes the Inglewood Football-Netball Club.
For 61 years Roberts – or Squirty as he is better known – has undoubtedly been one of the most loved figures at the Blues for his deeds both on and off the field.
He’s experienced the highs of premiership glory and the lows of weekly beatings where at times the Blues simply winning a game has been back page news on a Monday.
Inglewood is a club steeped in history that dates back to 1876 – June 1 to be exact when it was officially formed at the Empire State Hotel.
It’s a club that can lay claim to being one of 12 founding members in 1877 of the Victorian Football Association.
It’s a club that is linked to the first Brownlow medallist, Edward ‘Carji’ Greeves, who in 1935 spent a season coaching the Blues as their first paid coach.
It’s a club that won the first LVFL premiership in 1903, and in 1971 became the first team in the competition’s history to win a flag undefeated.
And it’s a club that pioneered netball in the district, playing two games against Bears Lagoon-Serpentine in 1950, before an official Loddon Valley competition – initially known as basketball – was formed the following year.
Inglewood’s history will be celebrated this weekend with its 140th anniversary, giving plenty of people like Roberts the chance to reflect on what the club means to them.
“The footy club means everything to me. My family is first in line, but the club is running a close second,” Roberts said this week.
“I might be a bit biased, but I don’t think you could get a better club.”
While Inglewood has long been starved of top-grade success – this year marks three long decades since winning its last senior football premiership and it has been 22 years since an A-grade netball flag – Roberts joined the Blues from Bealiba at an opportune time in 1955.
During a career than spanned more than 400 games between 1955 and 1982, Roberts played in three senior premierships for the Blues – 1956, 1958 and the undefeated 1971 juggernaut – as well as a pair of reserves flags in 1973 and 1976.
Roberts, now 80, combined those three senior flags with four best and fairests and later life membership in 1976.
But when reflecting on his favourite memories at the club, as sweet as they were, it’s not those premierships he speaks of.
Instead, it’s his involvement with the club’s youngsters as coach of the juniors during three stints between 1969 and 1990.
The first of those coaching stints netted four-consecutive premierships for the club between 1970 and 1973.
“Coaching the juniors was a great thrill because they were always a terrific mob of kids,” Roberts recalled.
“I was always a person who loved skills… if you had the skills then you were three quarters of the way to being a good player, and that’s what I always tried to teach them right from when they were little tackers.
“So I always look back at those years coaching the juniors very fondly.
“And I’ve made a lot of good friends through the club and the league, who always treat me well, so that has been fantastic too.”
Roberts’ playing and coaching days have long since past, but off the field he continues to make his mark for the club.
Over the years he’s held just about every administration position, other than president and secretary, is still an active member of the committee and on game-days at home can always be spotted in the time-keeper’s box during the reserves.
While Roberts has been part of his fair share of success with the Blues – nine premierships in total as a player and coach – he’s also witnessed plenty of years of on-field struggles, including the club claiming the past five senior wooden spoons.
This year signals 30 years since the club won its last senior football premiership in 1986 when the Daryl Canty-coached Blues defeated rivals Bridgewater by 25 points.
The Blues had lost to the Mean Machine in grand finals the previous two years, and the following season in 1987 had a chance to win back-to-back premierships, only to lose to YCW by 28 points after they had finished top of the ladder.
From the lofty heights of playing in four-straight grand finals between 1984 and 1987, the Blues haven’t vied for a flag since.
Since the 1987 grand final the Blues have made the finals just five times – the last being in 2003 – and at one stage lost 51 games in a row before the drought was memorably broken with a 32-point win over Marong in round four, 2007.
But rather than getting deflated by the tough times and lack of victories the Blues have endured over the past three decades – their winning percentage is just 30 since their last grand final appearance – Roberts instead graciously looks it as a square-up for the success he enjoyed as a player and coach in his first 30 years involved.
“It doesn’t get to me because we had a lot of success in the ’50s and again with the juniors in the ’70s,” said Roberts, an Inglewood Team of the Century member.
This weekend’s 140th celebration is looming as the biggest in Inglewood since the club won the 1986 premiership.
The weekend will feature premiership reunions of all football and netball teams – 52 in total – on Saturday in the clubrooms.
On Sunday the Blues will host Bears Lagoon-Serpentine in round nine of the Loddon Valley season, with the senior team a strong chance to win two games in a row for the first time since 2010.
Following the game a 140th gala function will be held at Truscott Reserve.
The weekend will also include a 140-year book and DVD, unveiling of a reserves honour board, commemorative guernseys and a Netball All Stars team selection from 1950-2015.
“I’m really looking forward to it. A lot of work has gone into it and it will be great to meet up with some of the older players,” Roberts said.
“And I just hope we have a bit of success on the ground as well. That would be a bit of icing on the cake for the weekend.”
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