Football is not life or death for Cobram’s Mark Lambourn.
It’s far more important than that.
Which explains why a career that began in Cobram in 1984 has extended to 2017 and the AFL Masters 2017 carnival in Geelong.
And he might be pushing the bounds of age but the 50-year-old did enough helping his Vic Country side to victory he was also named the division’s best and fairest and selected in the All-Australian team.
It capped a stellar week of football with his side defeating Vic Metro, Queensland and Tasmania on its way to the championship.
In recent years Lambourn has been instrumental in running the GV Giants Masters team based in Shepparton, which prompted his selection in the AFL Masters Vic Country team.
From starting his football career aged four with the Cobram junior ‘Elephants & Ants’ football competition back in 1972, he continues to play the sport he loves.
And is already talking of competing at next year’s AFL Masters Carnival, which will be held in Coffs Harbour.
Lambourn said he had a hugely enjoyable week at this year’s Masters and met lots of people; including old Cobram team mates Mark Maddox and Gerome Raco who played for Vic Metro.
“This was my first carnival and the camaraderie, the spirit in which everyone in all teams played, it really exceeded my expectations, it was fantastic”
He encouraged anyone who loved playing football in the past to ‘have a go’ as he was living proof you could play on, and on and still enjoy it.
“We started a Masters’ team in Shepp two years ago, for 35 and older and it has gone really well,” Lambourn said.
“We train, we kick the footy around and we play a seriously modified version of the game,” he said.
“We have guys who just train and never play, we have guys who play and never train.
“But there is a real sense of team, it’s a bit like a men’s shed, but with a footy. If you think you are too young for the shed but want to have a good time, just have a chat, come and join us.
“Our original purpose was to promote men’s health and now we have occasional nights when we have someone along to talk about men’s health and it has all worked so well.”
That sounds positive but even Lambourn, collapsed on his bed in Shepparton as he spoke, admitted three games in one week had been a little more than his body was up to – although winning made it feel a bit better.
Although it wasn’t helping the strained muscles and assorted aches and pains he moaned.
It was a much younger Lambourn who progressed through the ranks at Cobram playing in the 1995 premiership side and collecting the best and fairest award in the same year – then added three more from 2002, 2003 and 2004.
He would finish with four premierships, eight grand finals, a league best-and-fairest and an amazing 10 club B&Fs in a senior football resume that started as a teenager with the Murray Football League’s Tigers in 1984.
“I debuted at 15 and played six to seven games before I got dropped, Cobram went on to win the senior premiership under the legendary Les Mogg — but I played in the reserves flag that year,” Lambourn said.
His prowess soon attracted the attention of VFL clubs and he linked up with the Sydney Swans’ under 19s.
“At that time zoning was starting to fade out and because Cobram was in the Murray league, which had NSW clubs playing in the competition, the Swans had access to players from those leagues,” he said.
Lambourn commuted from Cobram to Melbourne where the Swans’ reserves and under 19s remained based, despite the seniors being in the Harbor city.
“Dad used to drive me down and for a young kid from the country it was a real eye-opener,” he said.
“We would train at the Lake Oval with the reserves and some senior guys who hadn’t moved to Sydney.”
Lambourn spent season 1985 in the under 19s but Sydney’s decision to relocate holus bolus in 1986 had him return home to continue his horticulture apprenticeship at Cobram-Barooga Golf Club.
“Because I was doing my apprenticeship and being a country boy, I stayed at home and joined Berrigan,” he said.
Berrigan was a member of the Murray league and Lambourn spent two seasons at the club, winning the 1987 senior best-and-fairest, before relocating to Wodonga in 1988 when he landed a position as superintendent of the Wodonga Golf Club.
“I was 19 going on 20 and getting that job opportunity was enormous,” he said.
One night after getting home from work, Lambourn turned on the television and set in course a surprise series of events.
“I was watching the news and there was a big story with Wayne Henwood and David Bolton suspended for being in a fracas,” he said.
“The good doctor Geoffrey Edelsten was propping the Swans up at that time.
“I was actually going down to watch Geelong play Sydney
“So I rang the club and said that if they were looking for some reserves players that my form had been reasonable and I could help them out, so they said ‘leave it with us’.
“An hour later the phone rings and they said ‘bring your gear, you’re in’ — so I went down played in the twos, we won and I got in the best.”
Lambourn had expected it to be a one-off game, but a chat with club officials after the match soon changed that.
‘‘They said because you took it upon yourself to ring the club, it cost them nothing to get me there and I played well that they wanted to return the favour to me,” he said.
“So two weeks later I flew up to Sydney and was again in the best.
“I headed home and fronted up to work at 10 o’clock on Monday morning to see Tom Hafey standing there in the car park at the golf club, he signed me for the rest of the season.”
Lambourn played more than a dozen reserves games and despite being named an emergency, the call-up to the Swans’ seniors never came.
“They asked me if I wanted to go, but there were no guarantees,” he said.
“There was no job, no accommodation and I was not prepared to take the gamble.’’
Lambourn’s decision was warmly welcomed at Ovens and Murray club Wodonga.
“I played in 1989 when we got beaten by Yarrawonga in the grand final and the first six games of 1990,” he said. “But I wanted a break, so I tossed the job in and went to Europe”.
“I had a ski job to go back to in France, but while I was there I ran into my old teammate Robbie West, who was at West Perth with Jeff Gieschen and about nine other guys from Wodonga,” he said.
“Even though I was in another city, it was like being home, especially after we caught up and had a few drinks, so I couldn’t leave.”
Lambourn spent the next two seasons with the Falcons before joining the GVFL, playing some quality football on a half-back flank for Lemnos.
“I played for the Victoria Country side that year and really enjoyed my football; I was physically and mentally reaching my peak.”
Lambourn’s efforts were recognised when he polled 23 votes to win the Morrison Medal for 1996.
Lambourn took over from Squire as coach for the 1997 and 1998 seasons, when he did everything from strapping ankles, getting the ice packs ready, filling bottles of water, grabbing the cones for training, the phone calls— it was a lot of hard work,” he said.
“I thought if that is coaching — then never again for me.”
Lambourn spent 1999 as a player at the Swans and was eyeing off a return to Cobram when a slice of fate changed his direction.
“Tony Tranter was coaching Shepparton and took a job up in Brisbane not long before Christmas,” he said.
“The club was in dire straits when it came to a coach and Shepparton asked if I was interested in coming down.
“I said ‘not really’ because of the experience at Lemnos, but they convinced me the club was different.
“I took a training session and all the little things were right, the balls were pumped up, the drink bottles were full, the witches hats were already there and the players were on the track ready to go.”
Lambourn and the Bears proved a perfect match.
“I was smarter and wiser the second time around and a lot more comfortable with myself as a coach, he said.
“Shepparton had a great team with the likes of Stephen Ash, Matt Byers, Sam Ahmet, Paul Hallahan, Brendan Bicknell, the Wells boys and Anthony Mellington, back from his time at AFL level.
“It was one of those years where the club was hungry for success and a memorable one because the seniors, reserves and thirds all won the flag.”
That win gave Lambourn the rare distinction of being a member of senior premiership teams in the Murray, Ovens and Murray and Goulburn Valley competitions.