Almanac Books: Champions All extract – Ian Paton The Club Soldier

Champions All - by Matt Zurbo

Champions All – by Matt Zurbo

Excerpt from Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo


The first time the balls came out was Glenferrie, mid- January, 1975. It was about 35 degrees, the ground was like cement. Kennedy called everybody in to explain the next drill, and this kid in long stops, must have been his first year, takes his boots and socks off. I’ve never seen blisters like it. There were big sheets of skin dangling and blood everywhere. He looked up and said, ‘Mr Kennedy, I’ve got these blisters, can I go in?’ John, in his rough and blustery voice, said, ‘Son, do you know how we get rid of blisters at this club?’ The kid shook his head. ‘We run them out.’ (laughs) ‘Put your boots on, run ten laps, then you can go in.’ The kid hobbled his laps, went in, and we never saw him again. From that day on I realised that’s what it was all about at Hawthorn. You don’t complain about injuries.


We were playing at Waverley, and Len Petch had been belted, he had his nose halfway across his face. Len went up to John, pointed to his nose and said, ‘Look, I’m not sure I can go on . . .’ John said, ‘Can you breathe through your mouth?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Then get out there and get a bloody kick!’ John always used to say, ‘Injuries above the shoulder don’t count!’


Early in the piece the training that you experienced at Hawthorn, blokes today would end up in court! (laughs) They used to have this big cricket roller that was towed by the tractor. John used to make the boys get in the frame and pull it up and down the oval. Up and down, up and down. You were absolutely buggered, but if you stopped the roller would go over you! I learnt pretty quick I had to get fitter.


There was very little humour at training, none whatsoever, but after you could lighten it up a bit. It was a strange place for a new person to be, Hawthorn. The competitiveness between players was far more fierce than it was with rival clubs. Blokes were belting each other. If you wanted a place in the side you had to fight your way in, literally.


One Thursday, Kelvin and Leigh Matthews, the brothers, were belting the shit out of each other. All the guys were gathering around watching. Kennedy’s pushed his way through, and said, ‘This is what we want!’ Blokes fighting for a spot.


I got involved, too. It was a Thursday night before what I was hoping to be my second or third game. At the end of training Kennedy sent everyone in, but pointed to me and another guy and said, ‘You two stay out.’ The guy had only been at the club a short time and was about the same size as me. John said, ‘Now look . . . I haven’t made my mind up. One of you go down to that goal square, the other go down to the other goal square, I’m going to put the ball in the middle and I’m going to my office. When I go in I’ll turn the lights out. Whoever brings that ball to me and puts it on my desk gets a game.’ So you have two blokes out there, in the pitch black, fighting each other for the ball, king-hitting each other, belting each other, struggling up the race slamming each other’s heads into the wire . . . Get inside, we were both covered in blood and absolutely knackered, but I was lucky enough to be the one to put the ball on his desk.


I think that’s what made the club so strong. You had guys on the Saturday that maybe weren’t the most skilful, but they were tough, and really wanted to play.


Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words by Matt Zurbo

Published by Echo Publishing


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