BEFORE Tony Wills moved to the Wimmera in the early 70s he had never graced a cricket field, since moving he has hardly missed spending a Saturday afternoon in summer away from the sport.
“When we shifted up from the city we lobbed at Noradjuha and across the road was the footy ground,” he said.
“I saw these blokes around there on a Thursday night so I went across, they asked me if I wanted to play cricket and that was it.”
Wills had already developed a love for the game but he had not played any junior cricket. He said Edwin Heard served as his mentor in the game right from the start.
“He used to say to me ‘Cricket is a very pleasant way to fill in the afternoon before we get on the beers,’” Wills said.
“He told me that when I was still a kid and I’ve never forgotten that one.”
Wills highlighted how important a role mateship played in his love for the game.
“In the retail business I’m in you can run into blokes you’ve locked horns with 25 years ago and you are taken straight back,” he said.
“A classic example of that is Ian Taylor from Lubeck; we were like two old rams in a paddock because we’d use to butt heads all the time, but now when he comes in we’re the best of mates.
“The same goes for players like John Shrive, Greg Penny and Wayne Anson – they were fierce competitors but when we get together it is like going back to 1978 in the blink of an eye.”
His career at Noradjuha finished after 250 games with a memorable third premiership. He said after winning grand finals in the 1980-81 and 1982-83 seasons he thought he would be winning every other year.
“I then played in at least ten losing ones and was captain for three of those,” he said.
“I had to wait to for my last game of C Grade to win another one so I could retire after 20 years.
“We won about 5.30pm on the third day so that was a really big highlight but there were a lot of them throughout my playing days.”
After retirement he hardly missed a beat as he transitioned straight into umpiring. It was something he had often done while playing at a club level and he said it was an easy move to make.
“It’s just sad when you get to the stage where you can’t see or can’t hear so you have to start umpiring,” he said.
“I still miss the competitive side of the game and wish I could be really amongst that team environment, because the camaraderie is so great when you hear the banter flying about.
“To me the umpiring side of things was just an extension of my career – I can still sledge better than half the players.”
His off-field roles have extended to a long period serving on the Horsham Cricket Association board.
He became president early this season and has filled almost every other role on the board in his time. In 2017 he was made a life member of the association.
“To be honoured by my peers and to have them hold me in that much respect left me speechless,” Wills said.