An offer hard to refuse
CRIMINAL types aside, it’s not every day someone slaps $10,000 on your living room table.
This same thing happening 38 years ago would have been almost unimaginable, given that $10,000 was more like $300,000 in those days.
But this is exactly what happened to John ‘Mopsy’ Rantall back in the early 1970s.
Rantall, then captain of South Melbourne in the Victorian Football League, was being wooed by the North Melbourne Football Club.
He was one of several players being pursued by the club, which famously succeeded in exploiting a short-lived loophole, known as the 10-year rule, ahead of the 1973 season.
This was a time when elite footballers still held down regular daytime jobs.
And despite being one of the game’s elite players, Rantall was no different.
By day he managed a chemical company. He was 30 years old, had a wife, a young child and had just bought a house in Mulgrave for the princely sum of $12,250.
He couldn’t have known it before they arrived but the visit from the North Melbourne powerbrokers would change his life.
“I needed about $1500 to put down as a deposit (on the house). I got $2000 for being captain (of South Melbourne), which was an under-the-lap type of payment and I bought the house,” Rantall says as we speak in the kitchen of his Palmers Island home.
“I hadn’t had the house very long when Ron Joseph, Albert Mantello and Allen Aylett (North Melbourne officials) came in and said ‘we want to sign you up’.”
It soon became apparent they were serious about landing Rantall’s signature.
“I’ll never forget this, they said: ‘Is there any other inducement we can give you to make you sign?’,” John recalls, laughing loudly.
“They’re sitting there on the lounge and all of a sudden they open this bag and they pull out this great, big square box of money.
“There was $10,000 there, all $20 bills. They threw it across, and it bounced on the couch.
“It fell on the ground and my son Brad, who was three or four, picked it up, thought it was a football and kicked it.
“There was $10,000 in this thing. That was mine. They gave it to us and said ‘we’ll pay you $10,000 this year, $12,000 next year and $14,000 the next year.
“I had just bought a house for $12,250. I had two mortgages on it. I thought I’d never pay the thing off because in those days that’s a lot of money.”
The money wasn’t the only incentive the dashing defender had to sever ties with his beloved South.
Rantall’s mentor and South coach, the great Norm Smith, was sacked by the club in 1972, just before the 10-year rule was introduced.
His mind was made up.
It is Australian rules folklore that Rantall and a host of other big name players signed with North Melbourne for the 1973 season. The club tasted premiership success two years later.
Rantall’s 17-year, 336-game career stacks up against any players to have excelled at the elite level.
Proof of that came in 1996 when he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame, and again last year when the Sydney Swans (formerly South Melbourne) inducted him into the club’s hall of fame.
The incongruity of an Australian rules football legend living in a rugby league stronghold like the Lower Clarence is obvious but it’s been three decades since Rantall lived in the spiritual home of Australian rules, Melbourne.
After retiring from football, he moved to Queensland where he worked for Queensland Health as a recreation officer.
Then in August 2007, he moved to Palmers Island with his second wife Deb and two of the biggest dogs this writer has ever seen – English mastiffs Albert and Maleha that tip the scales at 110kg and 100kg respectively, about the same weight as a ruckman and a full-forward.
The Rantalls settled on five acres at Palmers Island, where John grows Australian native flowers.
So why the Clarence Valley?
“When we lived in Brisbane we used to brings the kids down to Palmers Island caravan park every Easter,” Rantall says.
“We loved the place and we thought it would be a good place to retire.”
Despite living in an Australian rules blackspot, Rantall still gets recognised.
“Every so often people find out,” he says.
“I walked into Yamba Fair a few months back and this bloke says ‘John Rantall’. That always happens.
“I gave a talk at Rotary. It’s so much easier for people to do that because people can Google your name.”
You could say Rantall is not your average 65-year-old.
He surfs, does gym work, rides bikes, plays tennis and last year even took up golf.
“I can’t stand being idle,” he says.
Now he wants to use some of that energy to help grow Aussie rules here in the Valley.
In Rantall, the AFL clearly has one of its best hopes of gaining a foothold not just in the Clarence Valley, but up and down the North Coast.
And despite Aussie rules – or ‘aerial ping pong’, as it is clumsily referred to in our parts – often playing fourth fiddle to the other winter codes, Rantall is confident the game can prosper here.
“Now that the Swans are well established and with the advent of a second side, AFL is certainly entrenched in NSW,” he says of the game for which he still has an obvious passion.
“So I think there is no better time than now to try and influence as many of the younger kids to get involved in Auskick or whatever.
“You would be surprised how many people are keen on Aussie rules, but don’t know anything about it, or, want to know something about it, but there’s a fair amount of peer pressure from rugby league.
“It’s the same thing I went through when I lived in Queensland. Aussie rules is now accepted as one of their major sports.”
Rantall maintains strong links with Swans.
That’s hardly surprising when you consider he played 260 games for the club, second all-time behind Michael O’Loughlin, who broke Rantall’s long-held record in 2007.
And despite fighting tooth and nail to prevent South Melbourne’s relocation to Sydney in the early 1980s, no-one at the MCG felt a greater sense of satisfaction than Rantall when the Swans won the 2005 flag.
“It was fantastic,” Rantall says of the drought-breaking victory.
“It was something that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. The last one was 1933. Premierships are very, very rare. People play their whole life and don’t play in a grand final, or a winning grand final anyway.”
Mopsy – he got that nickname in 1963 after someone threw a mop at him and instead of changing the shirt, he wore it to training – admits the disappointment of not winning a premiership with his beloved South Melbourne lingers.
“That was the reason I went back,” Rantall says of his decision in 1976 to leave North Melbourne and return to ‘the Bloods’.
“In hindsight I was probably crazy going back because we played in a grand final in ’74, we won in ’75, they played in ’76 and lost it, drew in ’77 and lost in ’78. I could have stayed there for all of that time in hindsight.”
But it’s clear the latter was never really an option for Rantall.
And no amount of $10,000 bundles would have changed his mind.
CAREER AT A GLANCE
- 1963-1980 (Games: 336)
- South Melbourne 1963-1972, 1976-1979 (Games 260 2nd all-time)
- North Melbourne 1973-1975 (Games: 70)
- Fitzroy 1980 (Games: 6)
- North Melbourne best and fairest 1974
- North Melbourne premiership 1975
- South Melbourne/Sydney Swans Team of the Century
- North Melbourne Team of the Century
- Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee
- Sydney Swans Hall of Fame inductee
- Victorian representative (8 games)
- Australia Sport Medal 2001 for contribution to sport