Almanac Book Review: the Scott Hodges story

When I unwrapped this on Christmas morning I knew my wife, bless her, hadn’t quite purchased the footy book intended – albeit I’ve always followed with interest and awe the fortunes of the SANFL variety of Magpie. Surprisingly, the subject of this biography has always, and still does, follow Collingwood in the AFL.

Nonetheless, she must have had a sixth sense for this raw account will resonate anyone with an interest in footy and how life as a professional sportsperson isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, no matter how successful.

Like most Victorians my knowledge of Scott Hodges was surface level – a head tilt to rival Rod Carter, the prodigious mullet, equally prodigious goalkicking feats at Port and then an underwhelming turn at the Crows. Whilst at AFL level Hodges never hit the same heights, bags of 11, 8 (x2), 7 and 6 (x2) in a career spanning 38 games and 100 goals suggest there was more to his story than met the eye.

Of course in Adelaide he was a massive star – with an equally massive target on his back. Like Jimmy Barnes, Hodges grew up in Adelaide’s rough as guts northern ‘burbs. Whilst he enjoyed a more loving and stable home life, outside those four walls it was a jungle out there.

Staunchly Port, the former cheer squad member realised every boyhood dream and then some – 153 majors and a Magarey in 1990, famous goals in big finals, not to mention an incredible eight flags with the Magpies. He even married legendary coach John Cahill’s daughter.

As a child growing up in Centrals’ territory, Hodges had long known the level of envy and hate Port Adelaide inspired. In terms of the acrimony surrounding Port’s bid to join the AFL which led to the birth of the Crows, it would seem Hodges became one of the greatest casualties.

Whilst the sharp shooter wasn’t overly enthused joining the enemy within, I was shocked to learn how badly he was regarded by Adelaide supporters. Treatment in general by the Crows over his initial three-year stretch was pretty ordinary (and subsequently after a gap year back at Port, Hodges, to his utter regret, agreed to rejoin the Crows in ’96 – only to be used as merely a pawn for trade to Port Power).

A victim of his own success and weight of expectation, the increasingly injured and largely unwanted spearhead began a slow spiral into depression and anxiety. A familiar tale unfolded – denial, self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, further denial, marriage break-up and rock bottom. By the time Hodges’ career ended his body and spirit were broken.

There’s startling revelations besides Hodges’ dalliance with suicide; how the Crows aided and abetted a Tony Modra birthday bender and other assorted shenanigans miraculously covered up, and that Hodges was almost killed by a punter at the infamous Ramsgate Hotel in 2003 (shortly before David Hookes died in similar fashion).

The true hero emerging from the Scott Hodges rollercoaster is second wife Kerry. At one point she fell down the same kind of black hole. No one could begrudge her walking away given what she endured over an extended period. An achingly personal Valentine’s Day letter written to Scott is something else.

As might be expected, Hodges’ tome (written in the first person) lacks the literary sensibility of Jimmy Barnes, though guided by journalist David Penberthy’s light editorial touch this is a candid, vivid portrayal that doesn’t pull any punches. A chapter penned by Hodges’ psychologist also provides engaging insight. Similar themes to Barnes emerge; low expectations and self-esteem being an easy mark for industry sharks. Bad luck and timing also curtailed Hodges’ career and life trajectory as much as a strong fight or flight compulsion and predisposition to anxiety.

Owing to the era he played, Hodges has led a tough, hard working life that might have ended the same way as four Port Adelaide teammates. As with Working Class Boy/Man, Hodges’ story serves as inspiration for countless others to reach out before reaching for a rope or bottle of pills.

@JeffDowsing

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About Jeff Dowsing

Washed up former Inside Sport and Sunday Age Sport freelancer. Now just giving my stuff away to good homes. Not to worry, still have my health and day job. Published & unpublished works fester on my blog Write Line Fever.

Comments

  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    As I said elsewhere Jeff, not too many of the Crows’ early supporters warmed to Hodges (or Darren Smith for that matter), me included.

    I’ve seen that book in a lot of Melbourne bookshops, dozens at a time and have wondered about why it was stocked so heavily, given Hodges’ relative obscurity.

    But as you’ve said, there’s a bit more to his story than initially meets the eye. I’m not sure whether the northern suburbs/Barnes angle gets overplayed in the book, but it wasn’t necessarily the jungle that you mention above.

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Jeff, this book is for sale in my local bookshop. Have looked at it and thought about buying it, you’ve convinced me now.
    I suspect like you and many other Collingwood supporters pre 1997, I had a soft spot for the Port Magpies. The SANFL GF would be shown in Victoria on the ABC, more often than not with Port playing. What a 1990 Hodges had. Wanted to see him do well at Adelaide, occasionally he did. Fascinating career that straddled the end of the glory days of the SANFL and the start of the South Australian entry into the AFL.
    100 goals in 38 games is nothing to be sneezed at.

  3. Luke Reynolds says:

    Btw, what was the footy book intended for Mrs D to buy?

  4. Cheers Luke – Mrs D just thought she was buying a biography of a former Collingwood player given the title and the top of what looked like a CFC jumper.

    It’s a good read Luke, both for the insight into the parochial, political side of SA football, and Hodges’ many ongoing off field battles.

    I can’t compare one neighbourhood or suburb to the next Swish but where Hodges grew up it sure sounded like the law of the jungle to me. Disputes or disagreements over not much were settled one way. There’s been a number of studies that show both a mental and physical reaction by the body to violence and anxiety from that kind of environment which exacts payback as an adult. The comparison with Barnes is not made in the books, only my observations.

  5. Punxsa-and-the-rest-of-it Pete says:

    Engaging review Jeff. Always liked Hodges. Startled to hear that he went through despairing lows. But hearing about seemingly bullet proof elite sportspersons being not so bullet proof always blindsides me. I’ll be giving the book a go down the track, mate.

  6. DBalassone says:

    I had a flick through this at Shoppo the other day – a warts and all account of a bloke who’s been through hell. Always had a soft spot for him too, and remember well that game when he booted 11 against the Cats. Who’s to say he wouldn’t have been a centurian, if not for the sudden emergence of Modra in ’93.

  7. Hey Damo – the funny thing about the Modra – Hodges dynamic was they were actually best buddies and felt they formed a really good two pronged attack when the latter was fit. In fact the Crows ’93 Prelim debacle was arguably caused by Cornes dragging Hodges for Wigney prior to half time.

  8. Excellent review, Jeff.
    I will be looking out for that book for sure.
    I don’t know much about Hodges apart from his pre-AFL exploits at Port,
    so had no idea about all the rest.

  9. Thanks Smokie – given it was released 6 months ago, outside of SA it seems the book and the story have flown very much under the radar.

  10. Seems I’ll have to grab this one, JD.

  11. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    JD Hodges was regarded around the footy traps as a complex character by writing a book with plenty of chilling honesty ( haven’t read the book but have read excerts printed in the paper ) I reckon it will help him in the long run
    Hodges could seriously play he could have been a afl superstar with some more luck, injuries the arrival of Modra and poor use at times did not help taking him off in the 93 prelim was a huge blunder imo.The Crows as a club and its supporters didn’t ever really warm to Hodges a huge factor in him not becoming the superstar he should have been thanks,JD

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