FORTY six years of involvement with local football underlined the Hampden Football Netball League’s decision to bestow life membership upon Camperdown’s Kevin Russell.
Russell joined his father Ray as a life member of both the Magpies and the league when it was officially announced at the league’s annual general meeting earlier this month.
It’s an honour that Kevin admits he had never considered receiving but he did say he was ‘pretty pleased’ to be recognised.
Over the 46 years, Russell has held many roles at clubs including Camperdown, Cobden, Noorat, and Panmure, as well as within the Hampden league and the Victorian Country Football League (VCFL).
“It was bit of a surprise actually,” Russell said.
“It’s something I’ve never really thought about; I got a shock when my name was put up.
“I’ve always been a ‘footy head’; if you call it that but I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, particular with opportunities to coach and that.
“When I get older it will be something I can look back on and be pretty proud of.”
It’s unknown whether there have been any other father-son combinations to both be awarded life-membership, but Russell is proud to join his father.
He is also sure that Ray would be ‘proud of him’ and said that there would be a number of similarities between the two.
“Yeah it’s good,” Russell said.
“He’d be pretty proud I suppose, although he’s not here to see it obviously.
“Dad was involved for a long time, but like everyone says you look like your old man, so there’s no doubt some of his traits rubbed off on me.”
Kevin started his football as an under 16 representing St Pat’s in 1972 and went on to have a long and distinguished career as a player, coach and administrator.
His early achievements included Hampden Schoolboys selection in 1974, under 16 club and league best and fairest awards in 1975, under 18 club best and fairest in 1976 and a senior debut in 1977.
Russell really started to make his mark as a footballer in 1982, when took on two new roles that lifted his standing within the club.
That year he was appointed coach of the under 16s at St Pat’s as well as being handed the senior captaincy at Camperdown under legendary coach Alan Woodman.
He can still recall the day he first dipped his toe into coaching, on the back of some pushing from one of his coaches, Lawrence ‘Bluey’ O’Neil.
‘Bluey’ would go on to be a mentor for Russell and he’s thankful that he took onboard his advice at the time.
“Coaching was something I’d probably never thought I would do but ‘Bluey’ O’Neil gave me the coaching bug,” Russell said.
“He talked me into coaching St Pat’s when I was a young bloke, it was something I didn’t think I’d have enough time to do but Bluey talked me into doing it.
“He was one of my first junior coaches and I’ve still got a lot of respect for Bluey, he got me on the track of coaching and it just went from there.”
Russell’s career went to another level in 1986 when he was appointed captain-coach of Camperdown.
It was his first senior coaching role, and he would hold the role for three years, leading the club to consecutive grand final appearances in 1986 and 1987.
He continued as a player at the club following his stint as senior coach, mixing club football with multiple appearances for the ‘Bottle Greens’.
Russell returned to coaching in 1992, this time as an assistant coach under Robert ‘Scratcher’ Neal.
It was only a couple of years later in 1995, that Russell would taste premiership success as a coach, leading Camperdown’s reserves to a premiership.
His playing career of 198 senior games ended shortly after, although Russell admits that he was capable of adding to his tally had he not been hampered by injury.
Throughout his career he had a desire to ‘keep playing as long as I could’, wanting to delay a well known saying for as long as possible.
“As we all know or as we’ve been told you’re a long time retired, but I just played as long as I could,” Russell said.
“I enjoyed my time playing; I missed a few games as everyone did through a few injuries.
“I could have played a lot more, but I had a few knee problems and broken fingers.
“I was pretty lucky, not that I played a million games, but pretty lucky to play as many games as I did.”
In 1997, Russell was appointed coach of the Bottle Greens’ after taking a punt on the job.
He took that punt after he found a small advertisement seeking a coach for the league in the newspaper.
Russell felt that it was a position that was out of his reach, but knew there was no harm in applying.
“I was probably lucky, I had finished playing and one day I looked in the paper and saw a spot advertised for an interleague coach,” Russell said.
“I thought that’s something I’d never have the chance or opportunity to do, so I thought I’ve got nothing to lose.
“I put in for it and got an interview and then got the job and did that for four years.”
After his fourth year, Russell was approached with a left-field offer that had caught him seemingly off-guard.
Neighbours and arch rivals Cobden approached him to gauge his interest in taking on the senior coaching job at the Bombers.
Given the rich history between the two clubs, Russell was at first hesitant to take on the role, but consulted a number of people about their ‘thoughts’.
Those consultations helped him reach the decision that he would ‘have a go at it’, finishing his stint as coach of the ‘Bottle Greens’.
He would go on to coach the Bombers for three seasons, joining the club in 2002 although he does concede that he had thought long and hard about extending his tenure with the league.
“I probably would’ve considered doing it (coaching Hampden) for another year if I had been given the opportunity but I got approached by Cobden to see if I’d be interested to go out there as a non-playing coach,” Russell said.
“That was something I’d never thought I’d do, go from Camperdown to Cobden, and that was frowned upon by a few.
“But again I suppose I got that coaching bug, interleague was just part-time at the start of the year, although you played two or three games some of those years.
“The opportunity arose and I thought I had nothing to lose, so I spoke to a few people and asked what they thought about it before I said yes or no.”
During his coaching stint at Cobden, Russell also held roles with the VCFL, including two years as regional manager of the South West Region and as a selector for the VCFL side.
Once he finished his coaching duties, he also cut ties for a brief period and took some time away from the game between 2004 and 2006.
In 2006, Russell decided it was time to become involved with footy again and returned to his home club to join the committee.
“When you finish playing, I guess you’re always looking for ways to help out,” Russell said.
“When I couldn’t play anymore, I thought I’d go on the committee and help out and try and help the club survive.
“I thought I could just get in and help do some of those jobs and I can help take on some of those roles, so I jumped on the committee and I’ve been there ever since.”
In 2011, Russell became a member of the Hampden league’s interleague selection panel, spending the next four years as an assistant coach of the ‘Bottle Greens’.
He continued his role on the committee at Camperdown during this time, before he took on a greater role at the club.
Ahead of the 2016 Hampden league season, Russell became the leader of Camperdown, taking over the presidency from Rob Van den Eynde.
“I got an opportunity to take on the president’s role not too long ago, which if I was asked, I said I would do,” Russell said.
“I said at the time I’d probably do it for two or three years and this is my third year coming up, but we’ll see what happens next year.”
Russell said he enjoys the challenges the presidency offers and he loves to rub shoulders with his counterparts at other clubs and hear how they operate their own clubs.
He doesn’t compare his club to another, but he likes to lead his own way, knowing that he must strike a balance between the club’s stakeholders.
He’s aware that decisions made by his committee can at times be scrutinised but Russell said that they are making those decisions with a simple purpose in mind.
That purpose is ensuring the club’s future for years to come, wanting to avoid amalgamation down the track.
“The hardest part is to try and give footballers and netballers, the best opportunity you can,” he said.
“You also have to make sure the club is ticking over the right way; you’re never going to satisfy everybody with some of the decisions you make.
“But we just hope we’re doing things the right way and we’d like the club to be here for a long, long time.
“We’ve got to make sure we have got good foundations in place, which we have and we need to keep those opportunities going in the future to ensure the club is still strong and viable.”
There’s two people that have been with him most of his football journey, his wife Sheena and daughter Kirby, and Russell said their support over the years has been important.
They’re probably waiting for the day football doesn’t rule the household, although they will have to contend with the sport for a bit longer as Russell isn’t sure when he will finish as president.
“I’ve just been lucky to have good support at home from Sheena and Kirby with footy over the years, they’ve helped me a lot,” he said.
“I’d like to stay on the committee for a few more years yet and help out for as long as I can.
“I don’t believe in staying on the committee forever, I think that you need to get fresh people in there every now and again.
“You can stay too long, but I don’t want to be one of those people that stays too long, but I’ll still be around to help out and support the club in the future for sure.”
With that assurance he will still be involved, many will see Russell of a Saturday watching the new generation on the spacious flanks of his home ground, the Leura Oval.
If he isn’t running the bar, you will probably find ‘KR’ chatting with someone he has met during his long association with football, reminiscing about footy today or their own glory days of yesteryear.