Written by Simon Evans
There were only 3 teams (Goannas, Samurai and Gokon – old Samurai boys) with no organising body. We played about 7 matches a year including special matches such as Victoria v Rest of the World, Goannas v the Irish and combined Japan teams versus touring teams such as the Navy and Singapore. At the time I arrived (late 93), there was no public internet, email or mobiles. Phone calls to Australia cost about $10 per minute. AFL results sometimes appeared in the Monday Japan times. So although Japan was incredibly exciting for the newcomer, you could at times feel isolated. This was where the Goannas performed such an important role. For those that loved the footy, here was the chance to meet up with kindred souls, play the games, mix at social functions and also share a common bond with the Japanese players who had the same love of the game. My first function was the replay of the 1993 AFL Grand Final at the Australian Embassy held one week after the big game so that the video could be shipped up from Australia. Bernie Tierney was presented with the “Gomi” Cup for champion player in 1993 as I heard some of the organisers chatting in the background that he wouldn’t be so happy if he knew they had picked the trophy out of the local garbage dump.
My first match was in 1995 when Victoria played the Rest of the World. My expectations of a casual social kick around were shattered as the ball flew from end to end in a very high standard match. I wondered what the hell I had got into when Milton and Glenn Wager were involved in an almighty collision right in front of me. In the end, the World team led by Simon Hrabar triumphed giving Kim Bebbington enough ammunition to “kick a Vic” every month in the Bungarra for the next year. The Bungarra was a hilarious monthly magazine edited by Kim. It helped knit the Goannas together and was so well written that we would often have strangers turning up at functions trying to meet some of the characters therein. Regular columns included match reports (always humorous), quotes of the month (Kim taking notes at 1am in the pub were particularly fruitful), “not necessarily so” (scandalous Goanna Social column with ratings for assessed degrees of truthfulness), hatches matches and despatches, player profiles and the classic JR (Johnny Rudkin) Bar Tales. Social functions were also well reported in the Bungarra. They were always good value and were highlighted by the Annual Ball at the Hilton. This was Appsy’s baby with the key organisers being Mary Ellen Egawa, Kathy Evans, Paul McArthur, Marty Charlton and Milts. The 1997 Ball drew a crowd of 170 and 1998 230 which wasn’t bad for a club with 15 playing members! A highlight was the band “The Hitmen” who played regularly at these Balls. Other Social functions included the monthly bar review where a nominated Goanna would organise a meeting at their favourite watering hole. This was a particularly good way to get out and about in Tokyo. The Orphans Christmas Party for those Goannas and other assorted Westerners who couldn’t make it back to Oz for yearend were also fantastic functions normally organised by Bernie. The 1998 AFL Grand Final replay was also a highlight. Everyone was sworn to not find out the result as I, 4 meat pies and the video raced to Tullamarine for a Japan flight on the night of the Grand Final. About 200 people turned out at the Tokyo Sports Cafe to watch the big game on the Sunday without knowing the result and what a great day it was.
Another innovation around this time was the decision to rent the Goannas Sugadaira country lodge. This was an old farmhouse that Kim and Fumika somehow got permission for us foreigners to rent. This gave us a weekend retreat that could sleep 10-20 at a pinch and became the scene of many great snow and football weekends. Many improvements were made over the years with Appsy adding a sun deck (Kim will like that) and Kim putting in a Spa. Sugadaira was also home to three Goannas in Troy Beard, Aaron Cox and Tony “Slocko” Slockwitch. Troy became a regular victim of Kim’s quotes of the month but was also a fantastic help in the development of football in Japan becoming coach of the Japan National team for close to ten years. Aaron was more into leading many Goannas astray in the seedier parts of Sugadaira but did some nice things for footy in Japan behind the scenes. Slocko battled a constantly dislocated knee but hardly missed a game to become a fixture in the team and club along with his wife Mayumi.
Goanna team tours were also a highlight. Teams went to Singapore, Bangkok (despite them not having a team), Hong Kong and Darwin. The Darwin trip was a bi- annual event for the Arafura Games (a mini Asian games with many sports). The football competition involved teams from Samoa, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Singapore, Central Desert aboriginals, Darwin u17 squad and Darwin super rules. In many ways it was a pre runner to the AFL’s International Cup held in Melbourne every 3 years now. The Darwin trip involved 4 games in 7 days with the Japanese boys thriving on the workload while their older Goanna teammates expired by weeks end. The Japanese team became the crowds favourite and were often in the National papers and television. It was a great experience to spend a week on tour at a resort hotel in Darwin playing footy and mixing as team mates with the Samurai.
At the end of 1998, it was time for me to head back to Australia with Kathy and await the arrival of our first child. A fantastic time had been had in Japan with membership of the Goannas a key part.
Simon arrived in 1993 and got involved with the Goannas in 1995. He is a life member of the Goannas as well as Box Hill North. He won the Goannas best and fairest three times. He has been very supportive in helping the JAFL develop and is a tireless worker for Japanese boys as well as helping many other teams. I think the greatest compliment I heard about Simon was from the old Goanna president Shane Flanagan after a match against Box Hill North when he said “We always have to watch him on the field even though he much older than us” …and in finishing he said, “I would like to have Simon’s commitment at that age”