TO MANY people in Horsham, Frank Giampaolo is the man who owned the city’s White Hart Hotel for 26 years.
But before he arrived in the Wimmera, he was a pretty handy VFL midfielder for Melbourne.
His football journey started as a junior at East Bentley and Caulfield.
“I really loved playing junior football and was lucky enough to have some really good coaches,” he said. “My junior football really set me up for things to come.”
His first taste of senior football came for East Caulfield in the Federal Football League.
“I was lucky enough to be coached there by ex-Melbourne player Neil ‘Froggy’ Crompton who kicked the winning goal in the 1964 Melbourne premiership against Collingwood,” he said.
The following year he was invited to play with Melbourne’s under-19 side and he won the side’s best and fairest award in 1972.
A year later he had the opportunity to debut in the club’s senior side and Giampaolo relished the chance, despite coming from a family of one-eyed South Melbourne supporters.
“Most of them didn’t change who they supported but once you play for a club things change for you,” he said. “My first game of VFL football was a real highlight. As a kid I always just wanted to get the chance to play at the top level. To play that game was just enormous for me.”
His first game coincided with the debut of Robbie Flower, who went on to play a then club record of 272 games.
He said Flower was one of his favourite teammates having come through the under-19s alongside one another.
“Gary Guy, Peter Keys, Gary Hardeman were all really good mates,” he said. “Teddy Carroll was the best man at my wedding. So many of those guys were really good people.”
While not yet in the professional era of football, the side still trained four nights a week before playing on Saturdays.
“Friday nights and Sundays were the only leisure time we had but we still might have had a run,” he said.
“We were always at the club, and while we might not have trained as hard as the guys do now people don’t realise we had jobs as well before we had to be at training by 5.30pm.
“We weren’t getting paid much – if you cleared $130 or $140 for a senior game then you were doing well. It wasn’t something we thought about though because football wasn’t a profession. It was just for the love of the game.”
During the back end of the 1975 season it looked as though Giampaolo was ready to stamp his mark on the competition.
After playing the first four rounds of the season he did not make another senior appearance until round 14.
He averaged just under 21 possessions over a two month period including a career high 31 touches against Essendon in round 15. In the same game he managed three goals and three behinds.
Giampaolo’s VFL career was ended by persistent knee injuries ahead of the 1978 season. He had played 53 games at Melbourne across five seasons.
“I was having knee problems so it was just time for me and the club to part,” he said.
“I went to Sandringham and spent three years there.”
Giampaolo won the VFA side’s best and fairest award in his first season at the club and went on to play 50 games in his three seasons.
“I really enjoyed my football there,” he said.
“I would probably say I enjoyed my football there more than anywhere else.
“There wasn’t as much pressure in the VFA – that pressure of training and those sorts of things was much less. It was simply more enjoyable and we were a pretty successful side in those days.”
A shift to Manangatang followed after purchasing the town’s pub.
“When you shift to a town like Manangatang you have to coach the local footy side because otherwise they don’t want to drink at your hotel,” he said.
In his five-year period as captain-coach the side made it to two grand finals and a preliminary final in the Mallee football league.
“The fact that we couldn’t quite win one was very disappointing,” he said.
He then coached in Ballarat and Charlton before eventually finding his way to Horsham in 1990 when an opportunity to buy the White Hart Hotel arose – one that he could not pass up.
“We knew that it was one of the best hotels in Horsham so we had a crack at running it,” he said. “Once I got here that was it.”
In Horsham his attention turned to coaching juniors as his sons Jarrett and Chris developed into promising footballers. The pair have forged their own reputations in the football world beyond the Wimmera.
Jarrett captained Redan in the Ballarat Football League for a number of years as well as being part of three premiership teams.
Younger brother Chris played close to 50 VFL games for the North Ballarat Roosters before permanently joining his brother at Redan.
Their father refused to be drawn into whether they had become better players than him.
“Jarrett achieved something I never did by winning a few premierships, while Chris put together a good little career with the Roosters,” he said.
“They’re both good footballers, that’s all I say. I try to get down to watch them as much as I can – I love watching them run around enjoying themselves just like I did. Watching country footy is great because the supporters are passionate and it takes me back to where it all started.”
- Frank Giampaolo's story is the first in a new weekly series about Wimmera sporting greats. If you know someone with a story to share, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the newsroom on 5362 0000.