Laurie Shipp may have sailed in a different era, but Glenn Archer wasn’t the only local to don the blue and white, discovers BRIANNA PIAZZA.
Brianna: Hello Mr Shipp, please tell the Diary readers about your time with North Melbourne Football Club in the best footy competition in the land.
Laurie: I played footy for North Melbourne from 1949 to 1951. My first season with North Melbourne was the first time ever that North finished on top of the ladder as minor premiers. We beat every team in the competition, except Essendon. After that, things started to get a bit sticky for me because I qualified engineering and my superiors told me I had to make up my mind whether to be an engineer or a footballer, so I had no choice really. Back in those days I’d bring in like $8 a game, there was no future in football so I had to ease off.
When did you decide to play at elite level?
I started taking an interest in football at about seven. This was back in the days where you didn’t intentionally make a profession out of football – it was more of a hobby than a profession. I guess one of the things that spurred me was I went to the finals in 1945, as the war was coming to an end, and that was the game with the bloodbath. Players were being suspended all over the place – that was when I decided it looked like good fun!
Tell us about how you were drafted.
I was in the process of qualifying as an engineer and I was sent to the Latrobe Valley. I played with Moe for the last part of the season. As a result of that I got invitations from Essendon and Footscray – but not North Melbourne. I went to Footscray to play but then North Melbourne suddenly caught up with the fact that I was doing this and they basically said I was a North Melbourne resident and I had to play with them. I was a North supporter anyway, so I accepted and went along.
Back in those days there wasn’t strict discipline about what you did before a game. It was basically no drinking, no big meals, and try to get plenty of sleep. One night before a game I went to a ball until late and things were busy around the house the next morning, so I only got about three hours sleep. At the game I was doing all right in the first half, dashing around at high speed, but still not feeling crash hot. At one stage I kicked the ball in the wrong direction (laughs). My coach wasn’t very happy at all. Then about half time they carted me off to the club doctor because I collapsed and he examined me. He said I wasn’t getting enough sleep and so he prescribed me sleeping tablets!
We hear that you were the first AFL footballer pioneering the use of contact lenses?
Yes, I had eye problems since I was about 14 and I managed to get myself fitted for some. There’s no way I could have played without them when I was with North Melbourne. I was the only one at that stage wearing contact lenses. I think within a couple of years quite a few other players were using them. In the first final that we played at the MCG, I dropped my lens and lost it. Everybody searched everywhere but couldn’t find it. Luckily I had a spare. The National Sports Museum were putting on a special display and it was the hidden stories of the MCG, concentrating on events at the MCG, that people probably wouldn’t know about, and they used my contact lenses for a display.
Do you still keep up with footy these days?
In recent years several things have cropped up that yank me back to the heady footy years. The club keeps me involved as much as possible with what’s going on. I’m a member of the North Melbourne Past Players and Officials Association, and the AFL Players’ Association.
Published in the February 2013 edition of the Warrrandyte Diary