Keith Stackpole discovered early the camaraderie of the tough school of Premier cricket. Plucked from the lower grades to play under his dad, Keith senior in his farewell appearance after an illustrious career, he ventured to South Melbourne for the historic occasion.
This was the first time a father and son had played together in Premier cricket ranks, and was a tribute by Collingwood to his father, a legend at the club.Young Stacky, who was 16, was out for a duck. “We won the game but I was almost in tears after play. Then former Australian and Victorian captain Ian Johnson, a close mate of dad’s and who was captain of South that day, came over and told me to keep my chin up. He said he had a present for me. A couple of days later I received a new Gunn & Moore cricket bat, and a nice note from Ian Johnson. That was a gesture I’ll never forget. It was because of his friendship with my father, and the respect he obviously had for him,” Stacky recalls.District or Premier cricket never became easy, according to Stackpole. “It was always tough, but there were always people there to encourage you, to guide you and, I hope, I ended up one of them for the young kids as the years rolled on and I became the veteran.”The farewell game for his father was emotional. Keith senior, his son says, was a fantastic batsman and Collingwood stalwart, “a better batsman than I ever was”.Keith senior played with the Magpies from 1936/37 to 1956/57, scoring 7422 runs at 34.20, with 185 the highest of his 13 centuries. He was captain for the last seven years, was club champion three times and winner of the batting average eight times _ five in succession from 1944/45.He was a great mate of Jack Ryder, with whom he was joint coach at Collingwood for 21 years. Between 1945/46 and 1949/50 he had 20 games for Victoria, scoring 1025 runs at 34.17, and making two centuries with a highest of 157.He also was a rover who played 34 games with Collingwood between 1935 and 1939 and 85 with Fitzroy between 1939 and 1944. He was a member of Fitzroy’s 1944 premiership side, and later coached Prahran in the Victorian Football Association.He died in 1992 after being vice-president of the Collingwood cricket club for 37 years, with more than half a century on the committee. He also was president of the Collingwood Football Club Past Players’ Association for 25 years.It was into this background that young Stacky entered Premier cricket, welcomed by the Collingwood clan and the wider cricket community at large because of the friendships fashioned by his decorated father.If the tubby lad, nicknamed Humphrey B Bear, initially felt overwhelmed, he certainly made up for it. He actually established a cricket portfolio to emulate his father.
Stackpole had the honour of leading Collingwood to the 1970/71 VCA premiership, the club’s first since 1912/13.“To know that Collingwood were premiers (after 58 years) was a fantastic thrill. My mind went blank with excitement of the 15 run win over Richmond,” he said of the occasion.He played 111 games with Collingwood between 1956/57 and 1973/74 before transferring to the “arch-enemy” Carlton where he played another 114 games from 1974/75 until he retired after 1982/83.Ironically in his first season as captain/coach of Carlton, the club was beaten by Collingwood in the VCA Final.However it was at Carlton that he achieved even higher accolades, including three premierships and three Jack Ryder Medals. “Jack Ryder and my father were the greatest influences on my career. To the day he died I called him Mr Ryder, and it was an honour to win his Medal three times.”It did not take Stackpole long to stamp his authority at Carlton, where he influenced a group of players with his fitness and training regimen and his competitive spirit.He led the way with Ryder Medals in 1976, 1978 and 1979, and the club won the premiership in 1977/78, 1978/79 and 1980/81.By the time he retired, he had played in 225 Premier games, scoring 6859 runs at 31.32, with a highest of 153. His career contained 10 centuries and 37 half centuries.He also claimed 273 wickets at 18.67, with best figures of 7/57, and held 151 catches.He credits his development to Mr Ryder and his father, although he also has fond memories of Harry Lambert and Tommy Tuttle, two Collingwood players who helped him immeasurably.“Harry Lambert, who played cricket for Victoria and footy for Collingwood, was a terrific cricketer and confidante. When I made it back into the Collingwood First XI at about 17, I had to front up against Frank Tyson. I got one run in the first innings when the sheer speed of his delivery hit my bat and squirted away. Then we had to front up for about five overs in our second innings before stumps on the second day. Harry, an opening batsman, wasn’t going to open the innings until he heard that Tyson had asked for a new ball because he wanted to entertain the considerable crowd late in the day. It was normal practice to wrap up a game with only a few overs remaining with an old ball in those days.“Harry immediately put on the pads and took 18 runs off one of Tyson’s overs. He was not intimidated by Tyson or the speed of his bowling, and in fact he would not have even batted that night had Tyson taken an old ball.“Another great player at Collingwood in those days was Tommy Tuttle. He bamboozled guys with his left arm Chinamen deliveries. I fielded at slip and batsmen didn’t know which way he was turning the ball. In that era every club had a good leg spinner, but today that’s not the case.“Nobody should under-estimate how competitive and tough Premier cricket was. I remember in the early 1960s we played Melbourne and were beaten outright on the opening day. They skittled us twice and lost only one wicket! The following week the Victorian players had nothing to do (since they didn’t play in the opening week) so a combined Melbourne/Collingwood team played them to give them practice. The combined team beat the Victorian team.“I was a lucky player. I scored a Sheffield Shield century before I scored one in District cricket. I played in the 1970/71 premiership side at Collingwood but Carlton got my best years. By then you knew what the game was all about, given your experience at state and international level. District cricket is tough, make no mistake.“The greatest thing in the game is to play in premiership teams. It is different from making a Test century. That is fine, but you work all year with a team to win a premiership and when it succeeds, you have it forever. A Test century is fine for the moment but a couple of failures and it is soon forgotten.“To win four premierships was fantastic. Unbelievably, all four were against Richmond. They were a top side with the likes of Graeme Patterson, Jeff Russ, Peter Williams, Dave Cowper and Jim Higgs. It must have been heart-breaking for those players, but it was fantastic for us.Stackpole, who started his career at Collingwood with a duck, also started his career at Carlton with a duck.“In my first game as captain/coach of Carlton I had my middle stump knocked out in the opening over by Fitzroy’s Froggy Thompson. He was so excited that he ran down the pitch and kicked out the other stumps. He was reported. Froggy was a great character, as was Eddie Illingworth. Eddie was a great competitor, a fine bowler and a tremendous character and advocate of the game.“So too was John Grant, the best district cricketer I saw. He had everything: a hard hitting batsman, fabulous bowler, wonderful fieldsman and a leader of men. If he were around today, he would be a sensation in one-day cricket.“Essendon’s Keith Kirby also was a super player. Then there were John Scholes, the most dedicated cricketer I have known. He was the gutsiest batsman I have seen, a fabulous team man, a great leader of young guys. And he stood up in big matches.“Back then you played against Test players, and that was great for young blokes. These days the Premier players get too few chances to play against Victorian representatives, let alone Test or one-day international players who have so many commitments.“It was great in the old days. You feel sorry for the guys today because in most cases they are playing park cricket. When I was playing we were on the feature grounds at Princes Park and Victoria Park and Brunswick St Oval and the Junction Oval and Punt Rd and all the other big grounds that were used for footy as well.“There was terrific atmosphere. Every club had characters as supporters and they barracked really vocally. That toughened you up for big matches. And you were treated as equals with the footballers. If Carlton or Collingwood were in the cricket finals, the football players weren’t allowed to even run on the ground, let alone kick a footy.“If the footy club was in the finals, we were lucky to get onto a practice pitch until Show Day, and often they were wet. We had to cope, because we would cop wet pitches in matches. That was another advantage of those days, whereas now there are covered wickets and the art of playing on a sticky has just about gone.“There were plenty of characters in the umpiring ranks too. I remember one day I was batting against Bill Johnstone and umpire Ray Hele could sense I was getting fidgety. He told me to calm down, and encouraged me. Today he would have been likely to have been accused of being helping one side or trying to influence the game. But really it was a case of a cricket person encouraging a young player. I’m sure I was not the only one who benefited from his advice. Another character as an umpire was Bill Smyth. They just helped make a tough game more enjoyable and hopefully they helped you do your best.“A lot of my cricket revolved around ducks in my early days. I was out for a duck in my first games at both Collingwood and Carlton, and the same thing happened again in the first televised match when Collingwood played Fitzroy. I was run out off a no ball and I was none too pleased. So I slammed the gate when I reached the boundary line, which of course was picked up on television. The next week The Truth ran a big story suggesting that my dad take me aside and sort me out because I had a bad temper.”And Stackpole knows how quickly the game can bring you back to earth, regardless of your talent or reputation.“One of my most embarrassing moments was in a semi-final against Footscray. They had made a reasonable score and we were in dire straits at stumps. We were going nowhere the next week so I declared. I had the boys in the rooms firing them up, telling them we had to rip through the Footscray team to give ourselves a chance. Then in walked Lindsay James, the Bulldogs’ skipper. He yelled out that we could have another hit because we hadn’t avoided the follow-on.“The Footscray crowd gave me heaps when we went out to bat again, telling me I knew nothing about the rules of the game. Anyway we slogged a quick 200 and had Footscray in real strife until Ray Bright kept us at bay.”What he appreciates more now is the dedicated efforts of club officials. “I was a bit of a renegade in my young, wondering what a lot of the old blokes were doing sticking around clubs. Then when you mature you realise that they are the backbone of the club, the competition. The likes of Howard Houston and Clarrie Tuttleby, both of whom I had a considerable amount to do with, were legends for what they did for cricket. Every club had them and I was wrong in my early years to not understand how important such people were to the game.” Besides his illustrious Premier cricket career, Stackpole was an outstanding player for Victoria and Australia.For the state he played 75 matches, scored 4483 runs at 39.32 with 122 the highest of his eight centuries.
In 43 Tests he scored 2807 runs at 37.42 including seven centuries. His 207 in the First Test in Brisbane against England in 1970/71 was his highest. When he retired he was vice-captain to Ian Chappell.In all first-class cricket he played 167 games, scored 10,100 runs at 39.30, with 22 centuries and 50 half centuries, He also captured 148 wickets with his leg-breaks and held 166 catches.He later was on the coaching panel with the Victorian team and has worked in radio, newspapers and television around the world with his expert cricket commentaries.Stackpole senior would be proud.
From "100 Not Out" by Rod Nicholson and Ken Williams