Horrie Gorringe

horrie-gorringeBEFORE the golden era of Tasmanian football that produced stars such as Darrel Baldock, Peter Hudson, Royce Hart and Ian Stewart, there was the modern footballer… before football became modern.

Born in 1897, Horrie Gorringe was as tough as Joel Selwood, could burst away from packs with the acceleration of Chris Judd, and his skills were said to match Gary Ablett’s.

His stab pass was legendary.

In an incredible career interrupted by war, the Cananore rover was undoubtedly the dominant force in statewide club football during the 1920s. His ability to lift to another level when representing the Apple Isle at three national carnivals – when pitted against the best in Australia – was indisputable. Many say he was the most complete footballer of his age – perhaps, any age.

Gorringe was once described by Collingwood great Gordon Coventry as “the perfect footballer” and can almost certainly claim to be the finest talent from Tasmania not to play at the highest level.

VFL clubs of the day tried relentlessly to lure him over Bass Strait – he knocked back lucrative offers from Carlton, South Melbourne, St Kilda, Fitzroy and Geelong, who all threw everything but the kitchen sink at the ‘little maestro’.

In fact, the Blues, so enamoured were they with Gorringe, offered to buy him a farm in Victoria once they learned of his commitment to his land in the Tasmanian countryside. But Gorringe stayed in his home state, running rings around his state peers like few others before or after.

Although Gorringe only played club football with Cananore, Coventry, who locked horns against some of the VFL’s finest during his days in black and white, had no doubt the little Tasmanian would have excelled had he dipped his toe in the waters of the Victorian league.

“Although short, Gorringe was as strong as a lion, as fast as a streak of lightning, he could kick beautifully when tearing along at his top,” Coventry said after witnessing first-hand the Gorringe package.

Coventry wasn’t alone in his praise of Gorringe. Dual Brownlow medallist Ivor Warne-Smith also considered Gorringe the greatest rover he had seen at a time when Warne-Smith was a chairman of selectors at the dominant Melbourne teams of that era.

In an interview in 1986, aged 91, Gorringe admitted a slight regret at not testing himself in the VFL.

“I was on the farm with my father and we couldn’t sell (it), although Carlton said they’d buy me a farm if I went across. But I couldn’t leave. I’m a bit sorry I didn’t go for one season, I’m sure I would’ve done all right….old Roy Cazaly said I would’ve been a sensation if I went over,” he said.

Being raised on the land no doubt played a huge role in Gorringe’s mental and physical development. The boy that would become perhaps Tasmania’s greatest ever player threw himself into fitness training from a young age – spending countless hours sprinting, skipping and boxing with his brother in the shed. It worked:  “I always seemed to be ahead of the other chaps,” Gorringe later recalled matter-of-factly.

A gentleman on and off the field, Gorringe only had one dark memory from his playing days – when his father collapsed and died while watching him in action at North Hobart Oval.  The game was stopped, and a message was passed to him on the field. “It was very sad – dad hadn’t been the best, he collapsed and I had to go off,” Gorringe said.

Gorringe retained his passion for the sport well after his retirement. He often spoke of his admiration for the slick style of the evolving national game. “The game is a lot faster than in my day … the marking and kicking skills are very good,” he said not long before he passed away.  But Gorringe did lament the fact the game had become a business rather than a pastime.

As well as being named at forward pocket in the Tasmania Team of the Century in 2004, Gorringe was inducted in the Tasmanian Football Hall of Fame and elevated to ‘Icon’ status on induction along with Baldock and Hudson a year later.

His son Graeme never saw his dad display his incredible talents on the field, but said his father’s playing style was often likened to that of legendary Hawthorn rover Leigh Matthews.

Greame Gorringe said last week that his dad would have taken his induction into the AFL Hall of Fame – as he did with his numerous other platitudes and honours he received during and after his playing days – with humility, respect and a touch of pride.

“It would have to be (his greatest honour),” Graeme, 73, said.

“It’s a great honour after all these years. Dad wouldn’t have said much, he would’ve been proud, honoured.”

Gorringe’s elevation to the national body’s Hall of Fame was also a monumental achievement for his home state, AFL Tasmania’s Hall Of Fame manager Daniel Smedley  said.

“Horrie Gorringe’s achievements are a very impressive contribution to the game not only in Tasmania, but on a national scale. His recognition in the Hall of Fame is richly deserved, and a proud achievement for Tasmanian football,” he said.

One of Tasmania’s greatest sporting icons, he died in 1994 aged 99, although his legend lives on through the words and memories of football lovers from days past.

Gorringe also leaves a more tactile legacy at the spiritual home of Tasmanian football – North Hobart Oval – with a grandstand named after him, the same grandstand in which his father took his last breath.

The Horrie Gorringe Stand sits alongside another, named after his great friend and fellow football legend Roy Cazaly. Even in death, Gorringe is in elite company.