NOORAT might not be quite where he grew up, but for AFL life member John Rantall, it was a welcome return to Victoria’s south west after his football career took him away over 50 years ago.
The former Scotts Creek local recently moved to Noorat after his wife Deb was transferred for her work managing Feros Care’s operations in Victoria and Tasmania.
After moving to Queensland as one of Aussie Rules’ pioneers following his retirement from the game in 1980, Mr Rantall developed a passion for expanding the game into new markets.
When he was done helping AFL get off the ground in Queensland, he moved to New South Wales and was part of the Sydney Swans Academy as an under 15 coach.
While his VFL career would boasts a premiership, captaincy and the then a league games record, Mr Rantall’s football origins were much more humble.
Schooled at Timboon, he began playing football with Scotts Creek’s under 10 side, before moving on to play under 18 football with Cobden, winning the junior league best and fairest award, the Judd Cup, in 1961.
In a time before zoning – and well before the draft – Mr Rantall first caught the eyes of VFL scouts playing for Cobden and was invited to South Melbourne to play in an under 19 match in 1962.
But that one trip to the city was enough to convince Mr Rantall it wasn’t the place for him.
“I went back and played one year of senior football at Cobden, which I thoroughly enjoyed,” he said.
“Looking back on it, it was probably one of the best things I did because it gave me a bit more confidence.
“The next year, I went down to South Melbourne and played on permit.”
The permit allowed Mr Rantall to play six games, which would have been fine, only he made such an immediate impact at South Melbourne, the six rounds were up when the season was still young.
Living in a boarding house with 12 other footballers from around the country at the time, Rantall half hoped Cobden wouldn’t give him clearance to move to South Melbourne permanently – he still wasn’t sold on the city lifestyle.
The meeting between officials from South Melbourne and Cobden was not a long one.
“They were only in there 10 to 15 minutes – they sold me for £200!” Mr Rantall said.
“I remember on the drive back, thinking, ‘I’m done for now: I’m living in the city!’.”
But his first season with the Swans was no fluke, chosen to represent Victoria in his debut year, before a broken ankle ended his season prematurely.
He went on to play a decade with the Swans, before North Melbourne lured him to Arden Street courtesy of the controversial and short-lived 10-year rule.
“In 1972, Ron Joseph from North Melbourne rang me up and said, ‘John, they’re going to bring in a 10-year rule next year, would you be interested in playing for us?’,” Mr Rantall said.
“I said, ‘We’re second bottom, you’re bottom – why would I jump out of the frying pan and into the fire?’”
North Melbourne’s promise of a premiership seemed a thin one at the time, but after appointing Ron Barassi as coach and securing Doug Wade from Geelong and Barry Davis from Essendon, Rantall, then 29 and fearing he was nearing the end of his career, was ready to follow his dream of winning a premiership.
“Everyone wants to play in a premiership. I was lucky, I went across and played in a premiership, I played in two grand finals, and after that, I went back to the Swans,” he said.
“I could’ve stayed… (but) I felt as though I’d achieved what I wanted to achieve.
“My heart was always with the Swans.”
It was at the Swans that Mr Rantall realised his first dream, playing one game of VFL football, before going on to break the club record for games played.
He notched up game 300 while playing with the Swans, but would break the league games record of 333 games with his third and final club, Fitzroy, in 1980.
At the end of his career – and with the number of accolades that followed – Mr Rantall’s career was one that will forever sit up in the top echelon of players to play
He is a life member of the league, South Melbourne and North Melbourne, and also holds an honorary life membership with Brisbane.
He was an inaugural inductee to the AFL Hall of Fame in 1996 and holds a spot in defence in both the Swans’ and Kangaroos’ Teams of the Century.
Mr Rantall and his wife Deb said when they moved to Noorat, they were welcomed with open arms.
“Noorat is a wonderful place – everyone has been very welcoming,” Deb said.
“It’s a really lovely town.”