HE is the voice (some might say “mouth”) of bowls in Ballarat.
Ballarat Memorial Sports skipper Kevin McLean is not afraid of putting his spin, and maybe a bit of bias, on bowls as part of the sports team at 99.9FM on a Saturday morning with Neil Steinman.
The 58-year-old’s comments have been used by opponents to fire them up before games against his beloved BMS, but the main result has been some healthy banter during Ballarat District Bowls Division games each weekend.
“A friend of mine, Ekke Martini, had been the co-host on the show,” McLean explains. “Ekke, who we call ‘the Tooth Fairy’ (he is a dentist) asked me on about three years ago.
“There is a lot of banter. The Tooth Fairy is the more serious one, while I’m more of the joker, and we try to have one of the better bowlers from each club come on to talk about their club and their own bowls.
“We’ve formed friendships, and that makes it easier to take the mickey out of them.”
McLean says he likes to “build up other clubs” on the show, perhaps to lull them into a false sense of confidence.
He doesn’t mind passing on the odd rumour he has heard around the traps, either.
Some of them might even be true.
In all seriousness though, he says, the Ballarat division one competition is so remarkably competitive that every side must be respected on the green.
“We’re playing in a fantastic competition in division one. Any side can beat any other side,” he says.
“It’s like that every Saturday. If you are not on the job you will get beat. Bowls is a game of ability, but more than that it is a game of the mind.
“There’s a lot of good friendships you make at other clubs through bowls.
“They might be good mates on the (radio) show and in the clubhouse after the game, of course, but when you are on the green, we’re enemies.”
McLean says the fierce competition means there are some interesting rivalries on the green in division one. He describes some of them.
“We call the group at Victoria ‘the mafia’, including Steve Britt, who is the Godfather,” he says.
“Our sister club, who were so good to us while we were shifting out here (to Alfredton), is Ballarat.
“We were there for two years so there is good banter from that.
“For BMS, City Oval is the arch-rival, although it’s a friendlier rivalry than it was in the past.”
McLean describes himself as a one-club player, following its history from Ballarat City to BMS.
There is one notable exception.
In his very first game of bowls, McLean played against the Diggers.
“It was in about 1981,” he recalls. “I was a bar steward and East turned up a player short in division seven.
“I filled in and my rink won the glasses on the day (the best performed rink) against my own club.
“I’ve never played against my own club since.”
It didn’t take long for McLean to rise up into the higher divisions at BMS, and within a couple of years he was in division two leading for Brian Biggs.
“I led for Brian for five years and he taught me the game,” he says.
“I reckon a lot of young bowlers don’t spend enough time learning to draw bowls as a leader or second. They want to be third or skipper too soon without learning the trade.”
McLean was president at Ballarat City before the merger with SMBC, and again at BMS during the period when the club decided to move from its home at Eyre Street to Alfredton.
After the shift he became president again for two years before Phil Clamp stepped into the role this season.
Looking ahead, he thinks the Diggers are ready to return to Ballarat Geelong premier division and, more importantly, stay there.
“Since the last premiership two years ago, we’ve seen eight players depart,” McLean says.
“We’re now a very different side.
“I’ve been really impressed by how the younger blokes have stepped up.
“Blokes like Ryan Bedggood, Leigh Yates, Stephen Ryan, Robert Dickinson and Dave Lindsay.
“At this stage we’re a very good division one club but with a few more players we could become a very good premier division club.”
For the record, Kevin McLean is tipping Victoria to win in premier division this weekend, and BMS to win in division one.
I think he’ll be half right.