It’s a dank, wintry evening at Charles Riley Reserve. A tall figure, hunched shoulders, stands in the middle of the vast, grassy expanse, issuing instructions.
His captive audience, maybe 50 blokes or more wearing an assortment of AFL guernseys, as well as jumpers from a myriad of unknown clubs, listen intently as directions are dispensed. Bill Duckworth, a black beanie emblazoned with the North Beach Football Club insignia, warming his head, has again imparted his views upon his charges.
As always, Duckworth shuffles away, the bottom of his tracksuit pants kissing the light dew on the surface, as players disperse to all parts of the ground. They know the drill and they certainly know what “Bull” expects of them.
He watches intently from the periphery, barking reminders should anyone deviate off track. He then glances into the forward pocket, where a light tower of sorts, semi-illuminates a brace of players in deep discussion, one handpassing a ball to himself, over and over. That’s the extent of the physical activity.
The three of them are a little sore from the previous weekend. Bumps and bruises, some more severe than others, have restricted their training input. As Duckworth approaches they know the conversation will include some reference to ‘soft cocks’. They won’t know whether he’s dinkum or not, but he’ll get his message across in that familiar half-joking tone of his.
Either way, they’ll understand what he’s saying and roughly translated it means, don’t make a habit of it. Work your way through a little discomfort and you’ll be better for it. So will the team.
Behind them is a scoreboard. A relic of a construction, which legend says, appeared magically one night from the midnight mist. No council approvals for this twisted mess which thumbs its nose at modern-day building standards, let alone occupational health and safety regulations., to remain standing
Only the young dare scale this monstrosity on a game day, throwing magnetic numbers at a rustic frame, keeping track of the scores as North Beach hosted its opponent on that particular occasion.
There’s a certain synergy between that scoreboard and the man himself. Right down to its political incorrectness. Pretty it is not, but it has been kind to the North Beach Amateur Football Club for the last 16 years. Kept track of infinitely more wins than losses and has bore witness to many a fine social event.
Just as well it can’t speak, because some of the events witnessed would certainly carry a MA rating…if not more severe. The boys at the Beach have had much to celebrate under Bull’s watch, and they party as well as they play.
For the last 16 years as senior coach – and three more before that as a player – Duckworth has been a central figure at Charles Riley. Where his sharp wit, old fashioned values and sage off-field direction have been as valuable as his football nous.
His footy smarts have been obvious, through 10 premierships as the A-Grade coach, steering North Beach through the most successful era in Australian amateur history. He’s an icon, will be a Beach treasure forever.
Sadly, though, nothing lasts forever and last Friday night at the club’s annual presentation night, Bull announced that his reign had come to an end. He will still be about the place, but that wise football brain beneath the distinctive black beanie, might be perched at the bar, glancing out to assess training between Carlton Mid cans, rather than calling the shots.
Of course, before Duckworth wandered down to Charles Riley Reserve, he had more than eked out a remarkable career at both West Perth and Essendon. The Kondinin farmer, with a dam full of larrikin running through his veins, reached the zenith with two premierships at Essendon in 1984 and 1985, winning the Norm Smith Medal in the first of them.
It is doubtful that any elite player has given more to a club –anywhere – after stepping away from the public spotlight, for Bull is unique.
If you ventured down to Charles Riley Reserve before the colts had kicked the dew off the ground, Duckworth would have been there – spade in hand, filling in holes with a bucket of sand, or using that tool to dispense with the remnants of a local taking his pooch for an early morning stroll.
Perhaps it is poignant that the weather-beaten scoreboard and the dilapidated social hall that has been North Beach’s home for the best part of its 50-year history will make way, for a bright, new shiny facility at the same time that the on-field structure undergoes massive change.
As part of that new facility, we all hope that history is not lost. To preserve past glories they should erect a monument to Duckworth, for there is no doubt that North Beach would not be the club that it is, without his profound influence.