WHEN Wayne Hovey kicked his sixth goal during the last quarter of the 1973 preliminary final, Shepparton United looked likely to win an thrilling match against Kyabram.
United had trailed by three points at three quarter time and had started and started the better in the final term on the big Kyabram oval after a desperate speech from captain-coach Des Campbell.
But during the final term United's star rover Denis Davies was knocked out heavily and forced from the ground, his right arm hanging limply by his side.
Campbell was sitting on the bench in his civilian clothes and after watching his injured rover leave the playing field was forced to look on as Kyabram regained control and scored a nine-point victory.
In the dying minutes, and indeed the whole match, United had missed a man capable of turning the game. A man possessed with strength, speed, a raking left foot and great marking ability.
The man was Campbell - the "Panther".
Ruckman John Hueston says a tribunal decision on Saturday, July 28 had cost United the 1973 premiership. Campbell was rubbed out for eight weeks on a charge of striking a boundary umpire after a match against Mooroopna. Campbell had denied the charge.
"It was over against Mooroopna, with the traditional abuse after the game," Hueston said.
"As we were walking off the ground the boundary umpire (from Mooroopna) came up behind Des and he didn't know he was there.
"Then he swung around thinking it was a spectator."
The boundary umpire was only brushed to the ground, but he took Campbell's number.
"With him I the side we would have been certainties that year," Hueston said.
"On his day he was unbeatable, he was the best player I had seen."
The next year, Campbell, still captain-coach, played in the finals series and United duly won. The Panther legend was born.
"In 1974 he had a reasonably quiet year, he seem to lose form.
"But in the finals he completely dominated. He played in the centre and had the ball on a string."
The 1974 grand final was played on October 14 - due to the floods - and United started as underdogs against Euroa.
But with Campbell turning the game on its head in a flawless display, United won by seven goals.
"We had a better side in 1973, but Des made the difference," Hueston said.
The 1974 finals series a remarkable one in which the Demons played in five week and played Echuca four times in five weeks including the last home and away round.
Campbell's brillance led to many scribes prepared to call hin the best post-war player in Goulburn Valley history.
In 169 games for the the Demons, and more than 200 including his appearances for Tongala and the Goulburn Valley - Campbell's name still tops that list of greats.
He held the record for most appearance in a GV jumpier, with 11 between 1969 and 1979 and went of to coach the team to the Country Championships final in 2001.
Campbell won the Shepparton News-Winfield award for the league's best played twice - eleven seasons apart - in 1968 and 1978.
He made his senior debut at United in 1967, aged 17, and that year he played in a premiership side.
As testimony to this feat, Campbell had played just three games in the thirds the previous year before badly breaking his leg.
After nearly a season lost he was still able to step straight into senior football, at centre-half forward, and showed the Demons supporters he
was something special - a rare player that breathes fresh life into a club.
United sprung a surprise selection decision before the 1967 grand final by including former North Melbourne star John Brady. Brady had not played a match that year.
Before the bounce Brady walked up to young Campbell and said, "Des, if anyone gives you any trouble just yell out".
Brady's presence rocked the Shepparton players and United kicked the first six goals and went on to win the match.
After a first-up senior premiership, Campbell consolidated himself as a senior player by winning consecutive best and fairest awards.
It was inevitable that word of this young star would spread to the big smoke and Campbell was recruited by Melbourne.
He played with the VFL Demons in 1970 and after his first senior game in the final home and away round played in the Demons reserves premiership.
The city life didn't sit well with the boy from the bush and he returned to the comfort of Shepparton United. Two years later in 1973 he was appointed the young ever coach of the Demons at 23.
With his appointment as captain-coach, he became the first-ever man to rise to the position who had began his career at Deakin Reserve.
His coaching record was further enhanced where after returning from Melbourne, he took the role at Tongala in 1978 and took the club to fourth after the Blues had failed to win either a senior, reserves or thirds game the previous year.
Campbell was lured back to Melbourne in 1975 and played 52 senior games in the VFL between 1975 to 1977.
Looking back Campbell said his second attempt at league football was crazy. The country was in his blood.
He was to have another stint as captain coach at United and in 1980 he steered the club to its proudest day - premierships in the thirds, reserves and seniors.
It was the first time the GVL history that the three football teams from one club had won all grand finals. The Lion was the king of the jungle but the Panther was the king of United.
Campbell fell out with members of the committee after the 1982 season and returned to Tongala to lead them to successive flags - including a 1984 grand final victory against his former club.
After retiring the the late 1980s, he joined Kyabram as coach in 1992 for two seasons and took them to a finals series both years.
He moved to Canberra in 1995 to coach Tuggeranong, but returned after the death of his wife Sue in a car accident near Echuca.
His sons Brad and Blake went on to follow their father's footsteps and were drafted by AFL club's Melbourne and Carlton respectively.
Brad played just one game with Melbourne, but returned to the Goulburn Valley where he played in a premiership with Kyabram in 1996, won the best and fairests with Tongala and three successive gongs with Mooroopna.
In 2006 he became a Goulburn Valley life-member by notching 200 games.
Hueston said Campbell was a quiet man, who didn't drink a lot.
The was no need to say much when your actions spoke a thousand words.
And those actions weren't confined to the football field. He compiled 12 Shepparton Cricket Association centuries and made 74 against a full-strength Queensland state side at Deakin Reserve.
Campbell remained true to Hueston's words when he was invited to summarize his thoughts of Shepparton United - "Twenty fantastic years."
He is a life member of Shepparton United and the Goulburn Valley Football League.
- DANNY RUSSELL and ROB HARRIS