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AN INTERVIEW WITH AUSSIE

John Abel #22, Success Starts with Good Administration

​​Presented by Tiger champion, Tony 'Aussie' Wynd

'Some fun along the way doesn’t hurt!'

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John Abel

59 1st Grade Games

Former Football Club Board Member

Member of the Original Tigers Licenced Club Building Committee

When he was only 14 years old, John Abel turned up for football training one night and soon thought he might never play football again. It was 1966, and John had left school to take up a job with another Tiger identity, Wayne Kalachoff, labouring making concrete blocks at a factory in East Queanbeyan.

When he had finished work for the day, he had headed straight to the Town Park for training with his mates in the Tigers Juniors team (under 15), but as he arrived, he discovered that training was already finished. The rest of the team were still at school, and the training sessions were timed for after-school hours, not after-work hours. Even though he loved playing football and had been captain of a premiership team in the midgets (under 11s, in 1963) with his mates like Peter (Pies) Duncan, Mick Charlton and Col Imrie, he recognised that his playing days were done, at least in the short term.

So, John didn’t play for the next 6 years until he found himself living and working in Mackay in north Queensland in 1972. The local Australian Football competition had just started, with a total of four senior and two U/19 junior teams, (that got to play each other every week!) and when his boss had discovered John had played previously, he was roped in to play for the Walkerston team and quickly rekindled his interest.

Back in Queanbeyan the following year, it didn’t take much convincing from Pies Duncan to soon have him back playing with the Tigers. Over the next 7 or 8 years, John, widely known as ‘Batman’, played as a high-leaping, low percentage marking utility who was, in his own words, ‘notoriously inaccurate’ in front of goal.

Soon after returning to the club, John was part of a group of younger players who had started to get involved with the Tigers’ committee and administration. This group included contemporaries such as Ron (Chook) Fowlie, Alan (Sandy) McDonald, Tony (Flex) Quirk, Baden Ward, Robert Abel, Joe Kolano, Barney McInnes (to mention a few) and his junior teammates, Peter Duncan and Col Imrie. The youngsters on the committee had fresh ideas and shook things up in the administration of the club. John was on the committee for several years including taking on the Vice President role in 1977.

Much of the committee’s time was involved in fundraising. This included evenings selling raffle tickets for a whole pig, wheeled up and down the main street and into every pub. Also, meat raffles every Friday night at the Royal hotel where trays of meat would be raffled - which had been supplied at a discount rate by Bill Lampe’s butchery, as his son John was playing for the Tigers. (Bill was also the father of Gail and future father-in-law of Tigers’ Hall of Famer, Robert Anderson).

Another example was securing the rights to operating the ‘beer tent’ at the Queanbeyan show for several years in which some of the volunteers managed to drink a hole into the profits by constantly taste testing the product they were selling, but purely in the interests of quality control!

By this time John had started to further develop his business acumen and he, along with his brother Robert, was involved in the used car business. The club had a few thousand dollars in the bank which was to be used at the end of the year to pay the new recruits who were paid for playing. John suggested that, as it was early in the season and the funds would not be needed until September, the club could invest some/most of the savings to purchase a couple of wholesale used cars and then prepare them to sell retail at a profit with an ad in the paper.

This was viewed by some as too risky an option, particularly by the Treasurer who ultimately was responsible for looking after the club finances. John and Robert convinced the committee to take the plunge, with the plan coming to fruition with the club making a $800 profit, which was a great return on investment in a matter of weeks and significantly better than the annual bank interest rate. (Though it may have contributed to the premature baldness of some of the committee.)

During this period, the younger committee members recognised that the Tigers had a number of very good players, but really could benefit from both some experienced coaches and talented recruits to compliment the locals. A watershed moment in the Club’s history occurred with the signing of Tasmanian ruckman Jeff Petty and soon to be South Melbourne (Sydney) Swans bound, Wayne Carroll.

A couple of ex-VFL players were appointed as coaches in short succession. Terry Leahy had won first grade best and fairest at the Melbourne Football Club in 1966 and was a good coach but was also inclined to mischief when not focussed on football and only coached for one year (1974).

Kevin (Dobber) Delmenico was appointed coach in 1976 and held the role for 5 years. He introduced new standards and methods and took the senior team to the finals after a lengthy drought. John enjoyed the new approach and some success during this period under ‘Dobber’ although he still recalls a deflating comment late one night after a few post-game beverages, when the coach suggested that John would be better off concentrating on his committee work.

John remembers that this period in the mid to late 1970s was a tough time for the club. The finances were still very limited and while the club had to pay for coaches and some recruits, there was not enough money to pay the locals at all, let alone what they deserved. But it was also a time where there was some improvement on the field, with the first wins over Eastlake in 15 years and Manuka in 12 years respectively, being thoroughly celebrated. This progress helped to spur the people involved to strive for further progress.

John was also helping the club by renting out a house he owned to some of the players with, at one point, no less than 8 footballers living under the one roof. This house, affectionately known as ‘George’s’, became one of the social centres for the club, with many a gathering held after a game including the famous Hungi nights, with an outdoor fire and delicious, slow cooked food. Even the opposition players and coaches would stop by for a quick beer and end up staying for hours.

Infamously, the after-match celebrations for the Monaro League Premiership team in 1977 were held at the recently painted George’s. While they acknowledge that festivities became a little boisterous, the players from that team (some of whom are still heavily involved today) continue to deny that they had anything to do with the house needing to be repainted.

John also applied his entrepreneurial skills to be the key driver behind the Tigers first ever end-of-season trip away in 1974. There were additional fund-raising efforts for this purpose. In particular, events colloquially known as ‘gentlemen’s evenings’ were held, which offered a variety of live and film entertainment options. These became very popular with many from the region attending, some of whom had never heard of the Tigers.

One of these nights was to include a bootleg showing of a recently released movie that had an R-rating (apparently something about activities in Dallas). Remembering that this was before downloads, the internet, DVDs or videos - this became the hottest event in town that week and many hundreds of tickets were sold. A large room under the Seiffert Oval grandstand had been hired, but the booking was cancelled at the last minute when the powers that be found out the details of the agenda.

Even though John and his colleagues scrambled and quickly secured another venue, which was really just a large shed, posing as a clubhouse at the Tralee speedway, there were logistic issues to be addressed. First, they had to put some team members at the original venue to redirect ticket holders to the new venue which was a good 10 kilometres away (remember, no internet or mobile phones and no list of ticket holders). The next problem was the new venue was much smaller than the original and people were literally climbing the walls. So, once the shed was full, a couple of players were given a bucket of cash and a walkie talkie radio and sent to the gate to apologise, turn people away and offer refunds.

The adventure continued when the trip away came around at the end of the season. John had chartered a small plane to take about 20 Tigers players to the Gold Coast. It was scheduled to leave Canberra airport at 7.30pm on a Friday night and the travellers assembled early at the Canberra airport bar. There was a delay due to a sick crew member, so the plane did not take off until about 11.00 with a stewardess seconded from another flight. By this time, the touring ‘party’ was well lubricated and a little raucous which led to a lively flight with, at one point, the pilot threatening to turn the plane around. Upon arrival, during the bus trip to the hotel, John pressed the coach, Terry Leahy, to talk to the team about behaving and respecting the hotel and other guests. This worked well - until it was discovered the next morning that a door had managed to unhinge itself in the coach’s room.

However, probably the most important off-field development in that period, for John and the future of the club, was the establishment of the Building Committee in 1978. The objective of this committee was to obtain the land, liquor licence and various other approvals, to build a licensed club for the Tigers. As well as joining Dave Imrie, Alan Muir and Chook Fowlie on the committee, John was instrumental in ‘recruiting’ local solicitor, Jack Herrald, who helped to write the various letters to council for an allocation of land and worked through the legal processes with government agencies.

Another key contact was Ron Cahill, (a very keen Collingwood supporter who was then an ACT Magistrate and strong supporter of football in the ACT region,) who had been seconded via a member of his staff, Geoff Gosling, who happened to play for the Tigers.

John insists that his nickname had nothing to do with a penchant for masks and long black capes. He claims he was a very lean youngster and his brother, Robert, called him ‘fat man’ with the ‘Batman’ moniker evolving from there.

‘Batman’ says he thoroughly enjoyed his time with the Tigers, starting from the age of 10, playing juniors and watching the senior teams at the Town Park. He recalls particularly the hype around a young (19 year old) Alex Jesaulenko he watched on several occasions playing at Kingston Oval.

In the seniors, he loved being part of the team and the atmosphere at the club, making lifelong friends and connections. Today, the successful businessman is pleased to support the club through sponsorship, with his NRMA businesses, a major partner of the Tigers club.

John emphasises that a football club can’t succeed without a strong and stable off-field management. ‘Like business, that is the foundation of success. You can’t win premierships and be successful without good, sound administration’, he says.

Over the last 50 or so years, the Tigers have been fortunate enough to have just that.

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