Con Gorozidis walked away from footy and the pleas of Alex Jesaulenko to become an all-time legend of suburban cricket, writes PAUL AMY.
In cricket circles in the southern bayside region of Melbourne, Con Gorozidis will always be known as “The Champ’’.
Gorozidis was a prodigious performer for Brighton Union in the old City of Moorabbin association, achieving batting and bowling records that are unlikely to be broken, and it was stalwart Union administrator Noel Pullen who gave him the nickname.
Three weeks ago at Hurlingham Park, Brighton Union had a 40-year reunion of the 1982-83 premiership team that defeated the club’s great rival, East Sandringham, in a titanic grand final.
Gorozidis smacked 75 in 87 minutes from No. 4 and then opened the bowling and took 9-140 from 54 overs of pace.
Union scored 304 and won by two runs.
Gorozidis, now 61, was late getting to the reunion, just as he was occasionally late getting to games if a Friday night drink dragged into the early hours.
A champion local cricketer, he was an even better socialiser.
When Gorozidis did arrive at Hurlingham Park for the reunion, Pullen had the microphone and made a fuss of him.
“The Champ’s here. Here he is, The Champ. Let’s give The Champ a big welcome,’’ Pullen gushed.
When Gorozidis retired from cricket, his knees wonky after years of summer and winter sport, Pullen told the local paper: “There will never be another as good as him in the parks in 100 years.
“Without doubt Con could have played cricket at first-class level had he wished.’’
His performances for Brighton Union were in a class of their own; few argue at the suggestion he’s the best cricketer seen in a competition now known as the SECA (South East Cricket Association).
In the First XI, he hit 12,573 runs and took 673 wickets and 165 catches.
He won 17 club championships.
He played in five First XI premierships and was in Union’s team of the century.
He cracked 15 centuries and 77 half-centuries, with a highest score of 202.
He once took all 10 wickets in an innings.
He could win games with a blast of the bat or a burst with the ball.
“He was a phenomenal player,’’ Pullen says.
“I’ve never seen anything like it.
“I know I never stop talking about him, but I’ve just been fascinated by the bloke over many years. I used to love sitting down on a Saturday afternoon and watching him. He was an unbelievable cricketer.’’
His premiership teammate Tony Grant says: “He was a freak. An absolute freak. He was actually the main reason I played at Brighton Union. I was in awe watching him play and then going out and playing with him. He was a superstar.’’
Gorozidis was an accomplished footballer, too, playing at league level with St Kilda and Footscray.
But he used his talents casually.
Recruited from Brighton United to VFA club Caulfield, he won the VFA Colts medal in 1978 and had a run with the senior team at the age of 16.
In 1980 he started the season with St Kilda’s Under 19s, was promoted to the reserves and then made his senior debut in Round 8. He was 18. Alex Jesaulenko was his coach.
“It happened that quickly,’’ he says.
“My first kick was a goal but the goal umpire called it a point. ‘Jezza’ went off his head. I should have worked it out then that I was going to be no good.’’
In 1981 Gorozidis topped St Kilda’s goal kicking with 34 goals from 14 matches, including a bag of five against Richmond in Round 9 and six against North Melbourne in Round 18. The newspapers had started calling him the “Golden Greek’’.
Gorozidis kicked 29 goals from 14 games in 1982.
But, his application nowhere near his ability, he was eventually sacked.
“Could have been a star if he had shown dedication,’’ the Encyclopaedia of League Footballers asserted, noting his “tremendous skills and flair’’.
Gorozidis crossed from St Kilda to Footscray – Shane O’Sullivan, whom he had got to know at Caulfield, had become general manager of the Bulldogs – and got himself superbly fit, only to spend three months on the sidelines with a broken thumb.
There was a lingering knee injury, too.
Gorozidis stayed away from the club until O’Sullivan phoned him.
“I dunno if you remember me but I’m the one who pays you every month,’’ he recalls O’Sullivan telling him.
His five games for the Bulldogs came in the second half of the 1983 season and brought him 10 goals.
When he parted ways with the Dogs in 1984, a league career that showed so much promise was over after 34 games and 74 goals.
Gorozidis says he had no one to blame but himself.
“I was pretty lazy,’’ he says. “Natural talent got me through. But it doesn’t get you through to the top. There’s so much more to it: fitness, dedication, stuff like that.’’
St Kilda’s leaders tried to steer him towards a more professional approach. But he liked the bright lights and the late nights, particularly at the St Kilda social club disco.
“Yeah, I went there a few times,’’ he says.
“Whatever happened at St Kilda, it was all my fault. A lot of people tried to help me, tried to guide me, but I wouldn’t listen. That’s why I got the arse in the end.
“We had a pre-season camp at Anglesea and did the training on a Friday night. We went to the pub. From there other things happened and I got back about eight in the morning. On the Monday morning after the camp I get a phone call from (Saints general manager) Ian Stewart and he says, ‘I want you in here about nine o’clock’. I sort of knew what was going to happen.
“At Footscray, they were paying me a lot of money but I sort of lost interest. I just didn’t want to play anymore.’’
Almost 40 years later, he wishes he had made more of his ability.
“I definitely should have listened to the guys who tried to help me,’’ he says.
“‘Jezza’ had me in the office, ‘Barks’ (Trevor Barker) had me around his place, other people were talking to me about it, people like Barry Lawrence, a past player. They were saying, ‘Change your life’. Knowing what I know now, I’d do it differently. I don’t know. Can’t explain myself. I did what I did. You can’t change it.’’
After his four-year league career, Gorozidis played in the VFA at Sandringham and then at a string of suburban clubs, a gun for hire.
Wherever he went he kicked stacks of goals.
Gorozidis topped the Southern league Division 1 goal kicking three times and played in premierships at Bentleigh, East Brighton, Murrumbeena and Hampton Park, towards the end his thermal knee bandages as compulsory in his bag as his boots.
He was in the first round of inductions in Southern’s hall of fame in 2015, with the league describing him as “one of the biggest names in local footy in the 1990s’’.
When the South East Cricket Association kicked off its hall of fame in 2016-17, it also selected Gorozidis as an inaugural inductee, completing the picture of a suburban sporting folk hero.
Was he a better footballer or cricketer?
“I thought I was better at footy,’’ he says.
“If I didn’t do stupid things … I know what I was capable of, and I showed it when I was fit. The one time I actually got myself fit, I was getting leather poisoning. I played in a practice match against Essendon and got a lot of the ball.’’
And he preferred to play football, he says.
“Don’t get me wrong, I loved cricket, of course I did,’’ he says.
“There wasn’t much in it. Footy probably just because I thought I was better at it. In the early days I played cricket just to keep out of trouble.’’
He might have some regrets about his time in football, but none with cricket.
He never wanted to play at District level and doesn’t care for speculation about how far he could have gone.
“My blood’s Brighton Union,’’ he says.
Gorozidis grew up in east Brighton, near Hurlingham Park, and he and his brothers Greg and George played junior sports of all sorts.
“They had more talent than any family I’ve seen,’’ former champion Prahran batter Andrew Grant says.
Greg, Con and George went through the Brighton Union junior cricket teams and on to the seniors.
All were nominated for the club’s team of the century from 1907 to 2007. Con and George made the final XI.
Con, the middle of the boys, quickly became the best under-age player at Union and in the district.
Pullen knows Gorozidis’s date of birth – September 26 – because he has always remembered that if he was born after October 1 he would have been eligible to play another season of junior cricket.
Not that Pullen would have allowed it.
“I wouldn’t have let him play, because he would have killed someone, that’s how quick he was,’’ he says.
“I honestly believe that. With his pace he would have killed a poor kid.’’
At 14 he steered the Fourth XI to a grand final victory by scoring 80.
Soon he was in the First XI, bowling fast and hitting hard.
One day he clouted a ball on to the top storey of the flats near Hurlingham Park, a mighty strike with a bat that these days would pass as a toothpick.
“I recall him hitting a ball at Hurlingham that went over the top of the kindergarten at the Nepean Hwy end,’’ Tony Grant says.
“That had to have gone at least 120 metres.
“But having said that, he wasn’t just brutal. Technically, he was very good too. He could smack a good off-drive and cut shot.’’
Gorozidis never had a bad season, but his performances in some soared higher than others.
In 1983-84 he cracked 842 runs and took 38 wickets. A knee injury from football denied him playing in back-to-back premierships.
In the 1990-91 season he and Michael Cordwell formed a devastating new-ball duo, taking 100 wickets between them to bowl Union to the flag.
Another performance that Union long-tooths have never forgotten: in a semi-final against Bentleigh Uniting in 1992-93 Gorozidis was dismissed cheaply. But he set down his influence on the match by bowling 44 overs unchanged from one end, taking 5-59. He was so exhausted at the end he had to be carried off, Pullen says.
In a match against Brighton Central in 2003-04 he grabbed 5-16 after hitting 115, one of his three centuries that season.
And in a rain-shortened semi-final against Omega in 2005-06 Gorozidis blasted a match-winning 52 from 19 balls. Of his six sixes, two sailed over the pavilion and onto the athletics track behind.
“I think his main attribute was his competitiveness,’’ Tony Grant says.
“Every time he went out on to the ground he wanted to win the game. If we were in trouble he’d put his hand up and generally make sure we would succeed.
“I can give you a story: we got a beaten by Bentleigh ANA one day and – this is how competitive he was – he stormed off the ground. He loved a beer and all that after a game, but this day he just went home and stayed there.’’
Gorozidis was past 50 when he played his final innings for Brighton Union’s First XI. It was a brief knock: he was bowled for a first-ball duck by Bentleigh Uniting’s Simon Surridge in a grand final.
“I went forward, left it and it smashed my leg-stump out,’’ Gorozidis says.
“I thought to myself, ‘Oh well, if Bradman can retire on a golden duck, so can I’.’’
Shortly before, Brighton Union had put on a tribute day for Gorozidis, with funds raised from it going towards the care of his son, Jye, 24, who has cerebral palsy.
Gorozidis works for the Toll Group and is also Jye’s carer.
“I would not change a thing,’’ he says of his son. “He’s my strength.’’
In 1982-83, when Brighton Union held out East Sandy in that gripping grand final, the story goes that Victorian District club Prahran sent out an SOS to Con Gorozidis.
Paceman Andrew Scott had suffered an injury and was ruled out of the District grand final.
Prahran apparently asked Gorozidis – who had played brilliantly for the club in the Under 16 Dowling Shield series – to come into the team.
“I knew a few of the Prahran blokes – Dav Whatmore, Owen Mottau, Julien Wiener, Blair Campbell – and they rang Noel (Pullen) and asked him to ask me if I wanted to play in the grand final,’’ he recalls. “Because I’d played Dowling apparently I was eligible to play (in the final).’’
Former long-serving Prahran president Ian Crawford has no memory of the approach.
But he can recall the great Sam Loxton being impressed by the young all-rounder from Brighton Union.
“Sam said, ‘This kid could represent his state’,’’ Crawford recalls.
“True. Sam rated him very highly. He would have played him in the firsts straight away, as a 16-year-old. We tried numerous times to get Con Gorozidis.’’
“That’s not a bad rap,’’ Gorozidis responds to the lift-off from Loxton, the 1948 Invincible.
Prahran might have been keen on him but he wasn’t keen on the long hours and commitment of District cricket.
“I was always happy at Brighton Union,’’ he says. “That was home.’’
Andrew Grant recalls a conversation he had with Gorozidis about a possible move to District ranks.
“You have to do a lap before training, don’t you?’’ Gorozidis asked.
Grant confirmed the warm-up run. “Nah, that’s not me,’’ came the reply. The same fellow was happy to bowl more than 50 overs in a match.
A decade later, Gorozidis was mixing it with District cricketers.
The Victorian Cricket Association brought in the Pura Cup, a knockout competition involving District, Sub-District and leading suburban sides.
With Gorozidis as captain-coach, Union assumed the role of giant killer, defeating Frankston-Peninsula, Footscray and Collingwood on its matting wicket at Hurlingham Park.
Northcote eventually stopped it in the quarter-finals but by then Union’s efforts had gained the club and its dashing leader a lot of attention.
The South East CA recently published a book chronicling its history.
Written by noted Melbourne sports writer Russell Holmesby, it includes many references to Gorozidis.
“Con Gorozidis had a monolithic career in both phases of the game, but more than anything his reputation as one of the best suburban cricketers of all time comes from his capacity to change the nature and course of games,’’ Holmesby writes.
The book is called The History of Southern Summers.
Con Gorozidis – The Champ – made merry in many of them.
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