Brownlow Medal champ Ross Smith will always be grateful for the role Hampton Rovers played in his football

Ross Smith

By Paul Amy, Bayside Leader 18/06/2019

 “I’ll put you on a wing, to keep you out of the hurly-burly so you won’t get hurt,’’ the coach told his new player.

The boy was 14 and on the small side. He was about to have his first game for the Hampton Scouts under-19 team, halfway through the 1957 season.

The coach was Ernie Pitts, an arts teacher at Hampton High School.

The young player was one of Pitts’s students, future St Kilda captain and Brownlow Medal champion Ross Smith.

It was a great introduction to football for him. He played alongside his school friends and the Scouts won the premiership.

The team also featured Graham Cooper, who four years later figured in Hawthorn’s 1961 flag.

Smith, now 76, has warm memories of his junior playing days and the people who made it possible.

He had “terrific role models’’ at school in Alan Hayes, Larry Rowe and Barry Cameron (all went on to play league football), at a time when Hampton High went up against Dandenong, Frankston and Mordialloc in keen inter-school competition.

Ross Smith takes a kick for the Saints.

The Hampton Scouts played at the Ludstone St oval — “It was relatively small and there wasn’t a lot of grass on it,’’ Smith said — and were driven to away games in a bus, making for some enjoyable times.

Bert Golding drove the bus. A chap named Charlie Bennett was the team manager. Smith can put names to faces on team photographs taken more than 60 years ago.

He was a relative latecomer to football.

“Well, I was with the Hampton Scouts group and I was involved in a whole host of activities, like camping and hiking,’’ he said.

“I had enough on my plate. My mother was concerned enough with my distraction from education!’’

Pitts encouraged him to join the Scouts team. He rose quickly, winning two best and fairest medals for the competition.

After the 1960 season, VFA club Sandringham came calling, with an inducement of 50 pounds. Smith was eligible for another year of under-19 football and completing Year 12.

He sought advice from his sports master, Kevin Gurry, who phoned St Kilda Football Club general secretary Ian Drake.

An invitation to train with the Saints arrived soon after.

Smith had yet to play senior football when he joined St Kilda. But in Round 2, at age 18, he was given a debut against the club he supported, Essendon, at Windy Hill.

“Who should I play against in my first game but a couple of my heroes in Jack Clarke and John Birt,’’ he said. “Kicks were hard to find!’’

Ross Smith wearing his 1967 Brownlow Medal.

But he got the hang of league football. Smith played 234 games, was in the 1966 premiership, won the 1967 Brownlow and two club best and fairests, and was captain from 1970-72. The honours of selection in the St Kilda team of the century and the Australian football hall of fame came to him long after his retirement.

He said he arrived at the Saints at a good time.

“When I went there I was playing against these seasoned, hardened footballers in the practice matches,’’ Smith said.

“But there were four or five of us vying for positions. St Kilda was just starting to renew itself. It had a new coach in Allan Jeans, a 27-year-old coach, and he was building a team.

“There were opportunities for aspiring footballers. I was one of them. Allan was very encouraging and eventually found a spot for me that capitalised on my skills and strengths. I was very fit and strong and I was able to run with players like Jack Clarke and Bobby Skilton. They’d take me to the ball and then I would have to compete for it.’’

Smith said football had been good to him, and he had always been mindful of the Hampton Scouts’ influence on his career.

On Saturday, June 22. he will reflect on his football journey when he speaks at a sold-out function at Brighton Town Hall to toast the 90th year of Hampton Rovers Football Club.

The Hampton Scouts under-19s became part of the Rovers, who were formed by Hampton Scouts master Norman James.

Adam McNeil in action for the Rovers in their 90th year of football.

For many years James also coached the senior team; as founder of the club he’s naturally in its hall of fame and the “Boss James Reserve’’ was named after him.

The football club he established is going well, running five senior and 28 juniors teams (including seven female sides). More than 800 footballers are on its books.

Smith still lives in the bayside area and makes a point of attending at least one Rovers game every year at the Boss James Reserve.

“The Hampton Scouts gave me a wonderful start in Australian football,’’ he said.

“It expanded the work of the 1st Hampton Scouts into the sporting world and gave me a real feel for what the game was all about. It was a team game — I enjoyed playing in a team and with my friends from school — and we had some reasonable success. The values of the football club were a continuation of my family values.

“I really respect what the Rovers have done. They’re doing the same thing today as they did 50, 60 years ago, people volunteering their time to give young people the opportunity to play a game of football. It’s a great thing.’’

Ross Smith (middle, second row) with the Hampton Scouts team.

Five senior teams
Twenty-eight junior teams
More than 800 players
2019 AFL players: Angus Brayshaw, Andrew Brayshaw, Hamish Brayshaw, Christian Salem, Brayden Maynard, Corey Maynard, Karl Amon, Jayden Hunt, Will Walker, Harry Reynolds

League football roll-call
Bill Robinson (Hawthorn), Murray Johnstone (St Kilda), Tom McNeil (St Kilda), Nevin Paynter (Melbourne), Dave Bland (St Kilda), Stuart Lennie (St Kilda), Peter Lucas (Collingwood), Roy Harper (Footscray), John Kelton (South Melbourne), Larry Rowe (Richmond), Alan Hayes (Richmond), Barry Cameron (Richmond), Graham Cooper (Hawthorn), Keith Jones (St Kilda), Mick Clover (Carlton), Bruce Blainey (Richmond), Bob Morton (St Kilda), Ross Smith (St Kilda), Allan Davis (St Kilda, Melbourne, Essendon, Collingwood), Dylan Smith (North Melbourne, Fremantle), Danny Hughes (Melbourne), Chris Dawes (Collingwood, Melbourne), Ted Richards (Essendon, Sydney), Ty Vickery (Richmond, Hawthorn)

Read article on the Herald Sun website

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