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Winding back the clock at Belmore

By David Riccio

28 June 2015 - The Sunday Telegraph

FOR 35 years, Brian Proops kept time for the Bulldogs and Belmore Sports Ground was his second home.

"My wife has always said that in the football season, we were only married for six out of seven days," Proops said.

Proops, the Cantebury club's official timekeeper from 1972 until 2007, has more stories about the famous old ground than most.

On the eve of the Bulldogs' return to their spiritual home at Belmore tomorrow night against Melbourne -- for the first time since 1998 -- unravelling the 76-year-old's memories is a conversation worth sharing.

"Originally the ground was a different shape and it wasn't big enough for the dead-ball line," Proops told The Sunday Telegraph.

"If you were running towards the Canterbury Rd end, you had to keep your eyes open where you finished, otherwise you'd be in the fence." Earning no more than $100 a season to watch the seconds tick by, Proops was responsible for keeping time at Belmore for almost 1000 first-grade matches for the Bulldogs -- including the club's six premierships in 1980, '84, '85, '88, '95 and 2004.

"Early on, when I first started, you were working with plenty of rugby league hardheads who had been around longer than me and so you had to keep your eye on them to make sure the clock kept working," Proops said.

"And then also, people don't realise that when you're timekeeping, you have to watch the referee more than the players, just to make sure if he was signalling the time off and time back on.

"There was some serious responsibility with the role." Eventually, Proops walked away when the NRL insisted that all timekeepers were to have no affiliation with a club.

"If you wanted to sell your soul for $165 a game, you could put in an application -- which didn't suit me," Proops said.

"I said, 'No, I'm a Bulldog, I'll bow out gently'." In charge of the official game clock inside the old Peter Moore scoreboard on the Belmore Sports Ground hill, Proops would arrive at 9.30am each game day.

"Back then, you had three grades -- thirds, seconds and first grade," he said. "You knew the players from the lower grades coming through and it was a day out for everyone at the footy." On the end of the phone, Proops rattles off his favourite players to have played at Belmore like he's flicking through a pack of Scanlens footy cards.

"Barry Stenhouse. Barry was tough," Proops said.

"He would say you have the sideline as a precipice and you don't go over the sideline. He never did." Garry Hughes: "The greatest tactician." Steve Mortimer: "Out of this world." Garry Dowling: "One of the club's greatest ever fullbacks." Proops chuckles down the line when he gets to former Canterbury five-eighth Terry Lamb.

"Terry was the greatest backer-upper of all time, but the day he kicked a field goal when we were two points behind against Newcastle in 1992 ... it brought the house down," Proops said.

As usual, Proops was sitting inside the scoreboard keeping time when Lamb produced his brain fade.

"I would invite my friends up to the scoreboard for a good view of the game and they would peer out of the holes where we would put the tries, goals and field goal boards up," Proops said.

"That day the scoreboard was packed. Then when Terry kicked the field goal, which was quite rare back then, we had to put the field goal board up and everyone was blowing up, saying: 'you can't do that, we can't see'.

"It was quite a funny moment for everyone at the ground." Tomorrow night, the Bulldogs will wind back the clock -- literally. For a night which will be filled with nostalgia, Proops has generously donated his stopwatch which he first purchased in 1974."It's been to all the games, all the grand finals and now, just like all those dads on Monday night who were once kids with their dads sitting on the hill, it's going back to Belmore ," Proops said.

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