Laurie Shipp - Yallourn Football Club - by Roger Spaull

Laurie Shipp - 1950 Kornies Victorian Footballers - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards
Laurie Shipp - 1950 Kornies Victorian Footballers - Source: Australian Rules Football Cards



In only three seasons with Yallourn Football Club, former North Melbourne ruckman, Laurie Shipp, took local football by storm and created a lasting impression as one of the Blues’ best ruckmen of all time.

Although not well known in Yallourn Football Club’s history, Laurie had actually worked in the Yallourn Open Cut as a Cadet Engineer before he returned to the city in 1949 to sign with North Melbourne. Laurie remembers…

"While studying part-time to add Electrical Engineering to my qualifications, I was appointed to a Cadet Engineering position with the SEC and sent to Yallourn for the first stage of training. There I worked in the Yallourn Open Cut with the president of the Moe Football Club, and was promptly recruited. I played the last few games of the season with Moe. After a few months in the Latrobe Valley, the SEC sent me back to Melbourne"


GS Overlooking Open Cut 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
GS Overlooking Open Cut 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown

On his return to the city, Laurie was eagerly sought by VFL and VFA clubs prior to the commencement of the 1949 VFL season...

"…I received several invitations from clubs to train with a view to making their list. Included were Footscray, Essendon and Williamstown. At that time, North Melbourne didn’t appear interested and with my previous association with Footscray and Yarraville Socials, I opted to train with Footscray. When I turned up at the ground, I was greeted by Arthur Oliver and Roy Russell. The Footscray people treated me very well and I enjoyed a few weeks of association....then a letter appeared from North Melbourne signed by Jack Adams, pointing out in firm words that as a North Melbourne resident and supporter, I was obliged to have a run with them. I didn’t need much urging and promptly fronted up for some training"

‘The Argus’ carried a story about Laurie’s early days at North Melbourne in 1949…

"….one of the outstanding recruits is Laurie Shipp…he could easily be chosen in the opening round"

Laurie (born 1929) played for NMFC reserves in the first game of that season and his strong performance saw him promoted to the seniors the following week. Laurie’s first game of VFL football was against Essendon at Arden Street in front of 20,000 fans and Essendon won by 19 points. John Coleman kicked three goals for Essendon and the mercurial Jock Spencer kicked four for North Melbourne. One of Laurie’s team mates that day was Gerald Marchesi. Gerald was later to coach Yallourn in 1955 and 1956.

In an impressive effort by such a young footballer, Laurie played twenty senior VFL games that season including two finals against Carlton and Essendon.

North Melbourne - Argus 1949 - YFC stars Gerald Marchesi & Laurie Shipp pictured in this photograph of North Melbourne FC in 1949. Gerald coached YFC in 1955 & 1956 - Source: Private Collection
North Melbourne - Argus 1949 - YFC stars Gerald Marchesi & Laurie Shipp pictured in this photograph of North Melbourne FC in 1949. Gerald coached YFC in 1955 & 1956 - Source: Private Collection


He went on to play 33 games for the ‘Shinboners’ (as NMFC was then called) between 1949 and 1951. Laurie (185cm 83kgs) was an athletic, high-energy footballer with a strong leap and safe hands. Laurie kicked three goals for NMFC.

Laurie Shipp at Training in 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
Laurie Shipp at Training in 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown


Holmesby-Mains’ entry in ‘The Encyclopedia of AFL Footballers’ states that Laurie was…

"A determined follower who achieved a small piece of fame by being the first player to use contact lens"

In modern times, it may seem a matter of minor consequence, but plastic corneal lenses were still being pioneered in the late 1940’s. At that time, the lenses were very bulky and were produced in hard plastic. Laurie used this type of lens up to the second season with Yallourn after which, he used the newer corneal lenses. These were far more efficient than the old contact lenses but had a tendency to pop out under the stress of a game. The scientific breakthrough of corneal lens (in the 1950’s) had the potential to change the lives of many sportsmen throughout the world. No wonder Laurie’s decision to wear the lens was so newsworthy more than sixty years ago.

News Adelaide 9-Apr-1949 p9 Laurie Shipp - Contact Lens
News Adelaide 9-Apr-1949 p9 Laurie Shipp - Contact Lens

In 1951, it was reported that Prahran FC (VFA) had sought permission from NMFC to interview Laurie. The request was refused but something was ‘in the wind.’ Amid great publicity, Laurie shocked NMFC supporters and the football public in April 1952 when he was cleared to Sandringham (VFA). His last game for North Melbourne was against Collingwood at the Arden Street at North Melbourne in Round: 12 in 1951. {Note: Laurie was only 21 years of age when he retired from VFL football. He played his last game at NMFC with Vic Lawrence who was appointed to coach YFC in 1958 and 1959. When Laurie departed from NMFC his number:30 jumper was given to a young recruit from Brunswick named Kevin Easton}.

By May of that year, Laurie was again in the sporting headlines when he was seriously injured in the course of a game against Williamstown. Well known sports journalist Ian MacDonald wrote….

"Laurie Shipp, who is in hospital with a ruptured kidney …an ambulance, was called and he was taken to hospital." (The Argus 21st May 1952)

The report also said…

…medical authorities cannot say whether it was the end of his career.

Fortunately, Laurie recovered from the ordeal and was back playing his exciting brand of football with Sandringham until the end of the 1953 season. In April 1954, Laurie applied for and won a clearance to play with Yallourn FC in the LVFL. (Note: 1954 was the inaugural year of the LVFL…see Virtual Yallourn for this story).

Laurie made an enormous impact in country football and he wasted no time in establishing his credentials as an elite player in the competition. ‘The Morwell Advertiser’ reported in May 1954…

"Laurie Shipp, former North Melbourne star, switched from centre half forward into the ruck and dominated the game."

Laurie’s forceful play at stoppages and his ‘power punch’ from ball-ups were features of his play and the scribes were given plenty of thrilling action for their newspaper columns. Laurie was a ‘crowd pleaser’ and brought people ‘through the gate’ to watch him play his stirring brand of football.

On July 12th, 1954 it was recorded that Yallourn had been given a ‘football lesson’ by Warragul but….

"….Laurie Shipp was the only ruckman to provide any opposition to Warragul’s big brigade."

Laurie not only excited the reporters but the LVFL selectors made no excuses in rushing the ‘new Blue’ into the inter-league team to play the Gippsland FL at Maffra on June 14th that year. Laurie and Bob Mason (Sale) were the best big men in Gippsland football and gave the combine an edge in the aerial duels. Yallourn was well represented with Jim Shaw (Melbourne), Kevin Fanning, George Bates, Pat Wheeler (Essendon/ Brunswick) and, of course, Laurie. It was a star-studded team and some of the Latrobe Valley’s stars named in the line-up included Bob Mason, Jim Ayres (Warragul), John Coffey (Morwell/St Kilda) and Maurie Reeves (Warragul/Melbourne).

Trip to Launceston - Oct 1954 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
Trip to Launceston - Oct 1954 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown


Laurie’s most important match for Yallourn was in the 1955 LVFL Grand Final against Sale at Morwell. The Magpies took the honours that day by 10 points and the Blues were left wondering about ‘what could have been.’ On that day, four of the best ruckmen to ever play in the LVFL took the field…Bob Mason & Alan Morrow (Sale) and Bruce Knight & Laurie Shipp (Yallourn). All were mentioned among their respective team’s best players and clash of the ‘big-men’ must have been a highlight of that remarkable day in country football.

YFC Grand Final Team vs Sale at Morwell in 1955 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
YFC Grand Final Team vs Sale at Morwell in 1955 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown


There is a story about that gripping encounter prepared for posting on the Virtual Yallourn website. According to Laurie…

"There were some very effective players in the Yallourn team, and I was just one of the team. I really spent only a short period with the club. My work interfered quite a bit and forced an early retirement. Blokes like John Hutchinson, Kevin Fanning, Bruce Knight and Jack Vinall served the club for much longer periods."

YFC in 1955 - Laurie Shipp can be seen 4th from the left in the back row. Yallourn's other great ruckman of that era, Bruce Knight, is next to Laurie - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
YFC in 1955 - Laurie Shipp can be seen 4th from the left in the back row. Yallourn's other great ruckman of that era, Bruce Knight, is next to Laurie - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown


‘The Argus’ on June 3rd 1955, announced the LVFL team to play the Gippsland League at Morwell that season. Only two players from Yallourn were chosen for the LVFL combine. Laurie was selected in the back pocket (change-ruck) and Mossie Williams was named on the wing. Hugh Murnane (Sale) was the coach of the LVFL and John Coffey (Ex-St Kilda/Victoria) was captain. Former Yallourn FC star/ex-Melbourne skipper Geoff Collins and Bill Young (Stratford/St Kilda) were named in the Gippsland team.

In his three seasons at YFC, Laurie won these major trophies…
1. Most Serviceable Player~1954.
2. Runner-up Best & Fairest~1956.
3. Bud Williams Trophy~1956.

In reading the press reports of those years, 1956 was Laurie’s stand-out season for Yallourn and he polled strongly in the Purvis Stores LVFL Awards. The results were:-
1. Maurie Reeves (Warragul) ~33 votes.
2. Tom Hart (Sale) ~31 votes.
3. Laurie Shipp (Yallourn) ~29 votes.

Like other sportsmen of that era, Laurie had to strike a balance between the game he loved and his career as an engineer. Footballers were not well paid in those times and a career in the SECV offered Laurie security of tenure and the opportunity ‘get ahead in life’. In the end, engineering became his priority in the scheme of things. Laurie wrote about the dilemma that confronted him at that time…

"I played a couple of seasons of football at a somewhat social level with Sandringham, then several more with Yallourn in the Latrobe Valley competition."

"I enjoyed this involvement, although I was far from ideally prepared for it. I got pleasure from the game even with the severe restrictions on my training related to the demands of my work. The friendships of my team mates were and are valued. Niggling injuries were a fact of life with my low level of fitness. While I was still enjoying my football, I was forced to retire with plenty of football life left in me when my work became even more demanding. Power Station engineering involves continuous non-stop activity and I had to accept the fact that I had to be available at virtually all times."

There are two stories regarding Laurie that readers may find of great interest.

Firstly, in a match at Yallourn, Laurie lost a contact lens in a scrimmage. It is told that the umpire had no hesitation in bringing the game to an abrupt halt, whistling ‘time on’ and calling for an all-out search for the lens. “Believe it or not” as the famous Mr Ripley once said …the missing lens was found and play resumed.

The second account regarding Laurie was posted on the North Melbourne FC website in 2011. Laurie (then 82 years of age) recalled an incident that occurred in an exhibition match between North Melbourne and Hobart at the North Hobart Oval in 1949. Laurie remembered that the game became ‘willing’ and heated. A pack situation developed and in the ensuing struggle Laurie received a ‘rabbit chop’ to the throat by an opposition player.

North Melbourne in Hobart - YFC stars Gerald Marchesi & Laurie Shipp pictured in this photograph of North Melbourne FC in 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown
North Melbourne in Hobart - YFC stars Gerald Marchesi & Laurie Shipp pictured in this photograph of North Melbourne FC in 1949 - Source: virtualyallourn - Photographer: Unknown


Although Laurie suffered a temporary loss of voice, the blow had not appeared to have caused any serious damage. Little did Laurie know in 1949 that the scarring on his throat tissue caused by that blow would, in time, be a contributing factor to Laurie suffering a stroke in later years. He states…

"…remarkably, the specialist was able to conclude that the spontaneous incident, the best part of half a century ago, was the cause."

Laurie was a very popular figure around Yallourn and somewhat of a celebrity in the community. People loved meeting and talking with Laurie. He had the ability to make people laugh and feel good about life. He will always be remembered for his friendly manner and his generous spirit. His words reflect his feelings for the YFC and the township…

"The Yallourn scene was a great one for my family and me from the mid 50s onwards, and it would be hard to imagine a better life. The superb No.1 oval is still fresh in my mind. I remember one Saturday morning when we drove past the ground on the way to Morwell and the ground was completely under water…. just the fence sticking out of the water over about three quarters of the ground. We played on it in the afternoon, and the surface was perfect! The Yallourn township was a delightful place. The cinema, the library and the shopping centre in general were beautifully done. We spent many pleasant hours at the Yallourn Pub."

It was a lucky day for the Blues when Laurie decided to ‘go bush’ and play football. As a footballer he had character, boundless energy and superb athleticism. It is no exaggeration to say that Laurie Shipp was a ‘larger than life personality’ in the history of Yallourn Football Club and LVFL football.

A quote from Laurie is a perfect way to finish this story…

"There is something about playing in a football team that generates very strong comradeships that last for life and I certainly found that to be the case with YFC."


FOOTNOTES~ROSS SHIPP
1. Ross Shipp (Laurie’s son) also played one season with Yallourn FC in 1978 but gained a substantial reputation as skilled footballer in the Gippsland and the Ballarat regions. Like so many other youngsters in the Latrobe Valley, Ross played soccer at an early age and then ‘switched’ to playing Australian Rules. His obvious talent gave rise to being selected to play senior grade football with Newborough in 1976 as a teenager.

2. For the next two decades Ross played almost 200 senior games of country football. His lengthy and notable career included…

a. 135 games with Newborough Football Club (in three stints) between 1976 and 1990. Ross was best known as midfielder/forward/utility player and in those seasons won numerous awards including Best First Year Player (1976), Runner Up Best & Fairest (1979 and 1982), Best Utility Player (1979), Best Team Man (1980) and Most Determined Player in 1982. Ross kicked approximately 75 goals for the Bulldogs.

b. Ross coached the Newborough FC Third XVIII team with Graeme Donnet in 1979. (Note: NFC had affiliated with the LVFL in that season).

c. While at NFC Ross was chosen to play inter-league and in 1980 he won a silver stein for his outstanding performance for the LVFL against the MPFL in the VCFL Championship Series.

d. Ross was also a member of Newborough’s premiership teams in the MGFL (1988 and 1989).

3. Ross left Gippsland in 1983 and was cleared to play with North Ballarat FC. NBFC is a strong club with a proud and successful history in the Ballarat FL and, more recently, the VFL. Ross played about 35 games and kicked 15 goals approx. with the ‘Roosters’ (as NBFC is known) from 1983-85. He was part of the powerful combination that won successive BFL pennants in 1884 and 1985. Alan Lynch (Footscray / Richmond) and Ian Baker (Redan/St Kilda/Richmond) coached Ross in those years. Ross was honoured with selection in the BFL inter-league team in 1984.

4. Ross also played one season with the Diggers Rest Football Club and he was named in the Riddell District FL interleague squad.

5. A little known fact is that Ross also trained with Hawthorn FC in the 1970’s and later trained on a couple of occasions at North Melbourne FC in the early 1980’s. Travelling to the city for training was difficult for Ross and consequently, he happily returned and remained with Newborough FC. In 1984, Ross was invited to train with the St Kilda-BFL squad which had been so successful in promoting local Ballarat footballers into AFL. Tony ‘Plugger’ Lockett was one well known Ballarat footballer who was part of that important zone development squad in that era.

6. After hanging up his boots in 1990, Ross enjoyed coaching junior football teams at South Mornington FC. In 2010 the contribution that Ross had made toward s the development of young footballers was recognised when he was presented with Life Membership of South Mornington JFC.

In conclusion, Laurie and Ross Shipp form part of an extensive list of ‘Fathers & Sons’ who have represented the Yallourn Football Club. Yallourn FC was a ‘family club’ that gained wide support throughout the town because it was seen by people as a sporting organization that fostered spirit, strong values and lasting friendships. While the leather ball was the focus of ‘fast and furious action’ on Saturdays, it was what the club brought to the lives of the families of Yallourn that is best remembered.

As Laurie said… "The Yallourn township was a delightful place." Very few would argue with that statement!


Written for Virtual Yallourn by Roger Spaull~ June 2013.