WHEN you’re asked to name the most famous personality in not only Central Murray football, but sport in Swan Hill, radio caller, football and harness racing icon Noel Watson springs to mind.
Nearly 50 years after he played his first senior game of football as a 15-year-old for Wunghnu, a small town located 26km north of Shepparton, Watson still remains heavily involved in the sport.
Many would recognise his voice from countless years of calling the Saturday afternoon local football on 3SH as well as the station’s footy show, which he has been involved with for 32 years.
“In that time, I have met some wonderful people, who I see two or three times a year, but we’re still mates,” Watson said. His passion for football spawned at an early age when he captained his primary school team before winning his first senior best-and-fairest during a premiership year.
Sporting ability appeared to be a natural gift for Watson who won Sportsman of the Year in both primary and secondary school, winning 100m, 200m, 400m, 800m and the long jump at interschool sports in Shepparton.
He then moved to Bendigo where he played centre half-forward for South Bendigo followed by a two-year coaching stint with Loddon Valley Football League club Newbridge in 1980 and 1981. During that time, he captained the interleague side for two years and won the league best-and-fairest in 1980.
He then traded the Newbridge maroon for Swan Hill maroon at the age of 24 and won a flag in 1982 with the Swans against arch-rivals Tyntynder in an era where the two sides dominated the former Mid Murray Football League.
“The rivalry between the two clubs in that era was incredible,” Watson said.
Watson soon started helping out on the radio as a guest on the local footy show — and the rest is history.
“I have helped with or hosted the footy show for 32 years. I used to cover four leagues until the demise of the Mallee league and now I cover three,” he said.
“Country footy people are amazing...and some of the stories are incredible!”
Watson says one person he particularly enjoyed working with was long-time breakfast presenter Harold Pratt.
“Harold Pratt was terrific to work with. The management and staff at 3SH were very supportive of country sport and its impact,” Watson said.
“I remember ‘H’ falling off a broken chair and still managing to keep calling the game.”
Mr Pratt’s unfortunate mishap is one of a long list of memories that Watson can recall from his time behind the mic.
“There was a time where steam from the changerooms came into the commentary box and fogged up the window.
“We’ve also had a couple of coaches yelling into our microphones about bad decisions. The Rotary Club, with whom he has been a member for 20 years, has been a strong part of his time in Swan Hill.
“Rotary gives me a chance to give back and it’s a terrific way to help out our community,” he said.
Watson’s time on radio has also led to lengthy career as an MC and auctioneer.
He has assisted in raising a phenomenal amount of money during more than 30 years of auctions, hosting football goods and services auctions, and player auctions.
Watson has also hosted a long list of charity events and medal count nights across a number of leagues plus various other functions.
“In Swan Hill, I take it on as my job. I’m the MC guy, the bloke that does the talking. Other people do other things and that seems to be mine,” he said.
He even found himself calling the trots at Nyah one night after the scheduled caller was delayed. With nothing but a handheld microphone and a blank piece of paper, he managed to get the placings rights and concedes he would rather stick to calling the footy and involving himself in harness racing in other ways.
As a life member of the former Nyah Harness Racing Club, which now continues at Swan Hill, Watson has completed various roles at the trots, including providing coverage of the sport over the air waves and as a writer for The Guardian.
“We also used to cover trots live on air. The whole meeting from the races, interviews and tote updates was all live to air. It was a fantastic way to provide exposure for the trots,” he said.
“I was allowed to have a 10-minute harness racing show on 3SH every Saturday morning for years. It was a general sports show and we would get a variety of people to come in and say their bit — it was terrific!”
Away from the mic, he was the former club president, is the current vice-president and has been on the committee for approximately 25 years.
Additionally, he is a licensed driver and trainer, for both harness and thoroughbred racing, and his star standardbred Saint Flash won the first Cup run on the new Swan Hill track in 2012.
Watson, 61, has also returned the footy field in the last decade or so due to a ‘when I’m 50’ statement.
“Swan Hill reserves let me play one game. But as it turned out, I played probably another 50-60 games for the Swans and Quambatook reserves before finally retiring at 59,” he said.
A passionate St Kilda supporter, he’s happy enough staying on the other side of the fence now.