The words describing Mick Bone in the Encyclopaedia of League Footballers flashed into my brain as I heard the exchange between him and his daughter. The phone had rung, Mick had answered.
“I can’t talk,” he had retorted.
“Why?” His response was clearly unusual; her understanding of her father telling her that speech was a skill he possessed and used with great readiness.
“I’m answering questions.”
“Because I’m a champion.”
“Aw, shit.” Her tone suggested an amused resignation, knowing that she would hear about this again.
As for the Encyclopaedia of League Footballers, it describes the 168cm Michael Bone who played 62 games in five seasons booting 55 goals as “an extremely cheeky and courageous rover”. While there was no evidence of courage in my meeting with Mick, his cheekiness was immediately apparent upon meeting him and evident throughout the afternoon.
If this was the spirit of the man in his 71st year, I could only wonder at the boundless enthusiasm he must have exhibited in his twenties as he terrorised the opposition on Victoria Park and elsewhere in the 1960s.
He became a Collingwood supporter like his mother, and left school at 14 to become a plumber like his father. He played footy for Thornbury CYMS of Saturdays and for Thornbury YCW on Sundays. He would then go on to play for Collingwood’s thirds (the old Under 19 competition), and his recollection of how he would arrive at Collingwood would show that even his entry to the VFL was cheeky.
“I was training in the YCW and CYMS and I said to my Dad that I might go and try out in the thirds. He said, ‘Yeah ok’. I said, ‘You wanna take me?’ He said, ‘Nah, since when do you have to be taken anywhere?’ I said, “What do ya do (to get to play for Collingwood)?” He said, ‘I don’t know, but you can find out for yourself.’ So I rode my bike down, and it was two or three games into the season and I just walked through the door.
“A fella said, ‘What are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I’ve come to play for you.’ The fella said, ‘Who told you you could get a game?’ I said, ‘I did.’”
This is Mick’s recollection of how he met Jack Ross, the then coach of the thirds at Collingwood. Several generations of footballers before elite talent pathways, junior leadership programs and national junior carnivals filled to the eyeballs with coaches, Mick Bone had turned up at his favourite team’s training session and told them he wanted to play … and he did. Now that is cheeky.
His cheek continued as he made his way in the thirds. His coach told him he had to give up playing for Thornbury YCW in the Sunday competition. Mick remembers the Sunday competition fondly, and he remembered the conversation he had with his coach as follows:
“When I was playing in the thirds, the coach said, ‘You can’t play with YCW on a Sunday.’ (The competition) was very strong in the YCW and I said, ‘Then I’m not playing here, I’m playing in the YCW. Too bad.’ He said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘Yep, they’re all my mates, we’ve played together for two years and I’m the captain.’ So he said, ‘Oh, ok, well if you’re going to play with them then I’m going to have to train you a bit different from the others.’”
Just as Mick Malthouse conceded that the better players sometimes received different treatment to the rest in a modern Collingwood side, it seems that Mick was able to get his way and continue playing in the Sunday competition. This situation is inconceivable today, but it is more conceivable that one of the draws for Mick to play in the Sunday competition was that the “birds” would flock to watch. Young men have always acted like young men.
Despite playing in two competitions, Mick’s season in the thirds went successfull and he would play in a Premiership, defeating Geelong in the Grand Final.
By the first game of the 1962 season Mick would play his first game for the seniors at Collingwood, against Hawthorn. At this stage, the long time coach was Phonse Kyne, whose habit it was to take his seat and his players away from the bench and sit in front of the Collingwood supporters. On this day, Mick was 19th man and seated alongside his coach in front of the Magpie faithful at Victoria Park. However, the rain was pouring down and the coach ordered his player back to the bench where it was dry.
Meanwhile, Phonse Kyne had nearly had a heart attack as he didn’t realise a substitution had been made and thought that Mick had simply charged onto the ground. One suspects that the coach would not have suspected any other of his players of doing such a thing.
Mick’s mother had not been to a game of league football in some years, and listened to the match on the radio. With the commentators’ theatrical calling of the game, she thought her son had been injured in a head clash. When he arrived home she cupped his head in her hands and studied him, looking for signs of harm. She would never miss another of his VFL games.
In his next match he would kick four goals and his career was away in earnest. His career would include coming second in the Copeland Trophy, and playing in the losing 1964 Grand Final in front of almost 103,000 people. This game is famous for “Gabo’s run”, but also for Mick’s part in it. He was named as a follower for the match and had kicked a goal. Collingwood found themselves in front as the final siren approached and all the Magpie players pushed back into defence to make scoring difficult in the dying stages.
Mick had been playing forward in the last quarter and he moved back as his team received the instruction to flood the Demons’ forward line. His opponent, back pocket Neil Crompton, followed him. The ball was kicked towards Mick, who dived forward to mark the ball. It spilled out from his grasp and Crompton collected the ball and kicked the winning goal. It was his first goal in five years.
Needless to say, Mick has had this story follow him for the rest of his life. I could see the pain of regret there as he told the story, but there also seemed to be a part of him, a natural storyteller, that knew it was a good one.
His confidence in himself is unshaken, however, and he told of the time Bob Rose, his coach from 1964 to 1966, instructed him to follow triple Brownlow Medallist Bob Skilton.
“(Bob Rose) said, ‘I’m putting you on Skilton. I want you to stay on him all day, even when he goes into the backline, go with him.’ I said, “Oh, ok.” He said, “Look, he gets 30 kicks a game at least, he kicks four goals. If you can keep him to getting 15 kicks and two goals, but not get a kick yourself, you’ve done a job on him.’ So I said, ok, that was fair, and I didn’t care about Bobby Skilton, because I knew that I didn’t have to worry about where he was very much, because if I had the ball, he would be the one sitting on my back. So it wasn’t a very hard task, really.”
Unfortunately for Mick, Bob Rose and he did not see eye to eye on football issues. One of the things they fought over was the difficulty they were having winning the ball in the centre. Mick was of the belief that the reason for this was the positioning of Kevin Rose, Bob’s brother, who played as a ruck-rover, but would play a kick behind the play. This would enable Kevin to get the ball at centre half back, but would mean that the Collingwood on-ball brigade, as it would be called today, was playing a man short at stoppages. Mick is happy enough to concede with the benefit of hindsight, after having coached himself, that it is best that a player doesn’t argue with his coach, particularly about his family.
His feud with Bob Rose, who he said he liked as a man, but disagreed with on football matters, led to him being out of favour for the 1966 season, when he played only two games in the senior side. He was offered the vice captaincy at Fitzroy, and applied for a clearance, but on the day of the clearance hearing he was bedridden with the flu and couldn’t make it. His appeal was thrown out and his VFL career was over.
It was then, aged just 24, Mick would relocate his wife Rosie and young son, Simon, to Wodonga where he would be playing coach of the Wodonga Bulldogs in the Ovens and Murray competition. He would go on to play 144 games for the Bulldogs, coaching them to the 1967 and 1969 Premierships and becoming a favourite of their supporters and the opposite of that to their opponents. He would be inducted into the Ovens and Murray Hall of Fame in 2011 and be in named in the Wodonga Team of the Century.
One can’t help but wonder what he would have accomplished if his transfer to Fitzroy had gone through. Mick himself seems more proud of his involvement with Wodonga and the Ovens and Murray competition, which he describes as being as good as the VFA when he first went up there. Other than that, his regret is about not getting fitter when his place in the Collingwood side was under jeopardy.
The only time he seemed genuinely excited about the modern AFL was when we discussed Gary Ablett, but the little champion gets that out of everyone. He now seems more into his golf than footy, but I gather that perhaps he was better at the latter.
He describes himself as a country boy, having raised five children and run his own business in Wodonga since 1967. He is retired now, but has lived a life full of memories that thousands upon thousands of people dream of, and that most of the rest of us dream of in different colours. His is a story of gumption, of skill, toughness, regret, redemption, persistence, heart and cheek.
Mick Bone is family man with great stories of youth to tell, which is fitting, because he’s quick to tell them. He’s good for a laugh, as well as for some insight, and I’m sure his parents would be as proud of their result as he is of his. My lasting memory of Mick will be of him with his arms in the air in remembered celebration as he recounted taking a specky over Graham “Polly” Farmer, a huge, cheeky grin on his face.