Almanac Books: Champions All Extract – Ken Hunter on depression

Champions All - by Matt Zurbo

Champions All – by Matt Zurbo


Please enjoy another extract from Matt Zurbo’s book Champions All – A History of AFL/VFL Football in the Players’ Own Words.


In ’88 Walls was really, really hard on the players because we won the flag in ’87 … But we weren’t doing well. One particular game, he found out four of the more experienced players were drinking, and he had a no-drinking rule. So he’s got us all in a group at training and blasted the shit out of them, to the point he said to one, ‘If you don’t like it, pick up your bag and fuck off and never come back here again!’ I’m thinking, ‘I can’t believe you’re saying these things to blokes that have won all these premierships for the club. You don’t have to demean people like that in front of a group.’ So I went and saw him throughout the week . . . and said, ‘Look, the way you spoke to the players, I don’t think was right.’


Next training, he called me to one side, ‘I was driving home and thinking about what you said to me. It started giving me the fucking shits. Yack, yack, yack . . .’ And from that point on didn’t speak to me again. He dropped me about three weeks later – first time I’ve ever been dropped, just pulled me into the team and goes, ‘I got dropped at 32, see how you handle it.’ And that was it.


After that it was almost like he was doing it on purpose – that’s the way I felt at the time. I was made to train with the reserves on the No 1 Oval (outside Princes Park), then I’d come back into the side, I’d be put on the bench and I’d be dropped. It was like Chinese torture. And I wasn’t sleeping. I’d go to the doctor and he’d start prescribing stronger and stronger sleeping pills. I was going into a depression. I had no idea what a depression was, I thought I was going insane.


It got to the point – I was playing footy and I couldn’t even judge a ball. I still wasn’t sleeping, just a complete fucking zombie. Got to the last game, then I was playing in the reserves in a final. When we lost, I was about to rip my jumper off and throw it into the crowd. Col Kinnear stopped me and pulled it back on. Carlton seniors were still in the finals, but the club covered up and said I’d done a hamstring, when the truth was I was admitted into a hospital in Queensland.


I couldn’t accept the fact that I had to take medication for something I couldn’t control, so I’d fight it. I discharged myself and went up to the Gold Coast to try and get away. Meanwhile, Carlton were playing in a Preliminary Final against Hawthorn. I remember walking the streets thinking ‘Fuck, if they win this . . .’ I didn’t know what I was capable of doing to myself if this thing I couldn’t see or touch stopped me playing in a Grand Final. I couldn’t handle it. Then, they lost.


I felt that after they lost that I’d get better, but I just couldn’t come out of it. I got worse. I got back to Melbourne and decided that I have to follow what the psychiatrist said, take these tablets on these days, and other advice …


I eventually came out of it over summer. The easiest thing I could’ve done was to just walk away. But I thought, ‘No, I’m not going to finish football this way.’ I didn’t care if it was one more game, two more games … I said to myself, ‘I’m going back.’


I played the first five games and then I was dropped; but it didn’t worry me after that, I couldn’t be stuffed. I could leave the game on my terms, I’d achieved what I wanted to.


I spoke to a few people and they said, ‘Oh, no don’t talk about it, don’t talk about it … !’ But I remembered as a kid, when someone has a mental illness, people would always go, ‘Shh, shh!’ I thought, ‘I don’t want to be seen like that. I’m not ashamed of what happened.’


I don’t want to shy away from it, depression … I want people to know it’s not just strangers on the street it happens to. Depression can hit anyone, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. You can come out of it, and often as a better person. It’s bigger than football.


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

Published by Echo Publishing


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You can purchase a copy online via this link.


  1. Malby Dangles says

    A very enlightening and sad interview from a terrific player. Good on him for talking about what happened.
    One of many gems in this great book!

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    That’s powerful stuff, Matt. Can’t think of a more courageous player than Ken Hunter on the field and after reading this, off field too. These stories need to be told and heard widely. Depression does not discriminate. Kudos Matt and Ken.

  3. Robert Walls, not surprising, not the only career he destroyed, remember what he did to Shane Strempel up in QLD when he coached the Bears ….

  4. Wow, what a champion is ken hunter, gutsy on and off the field. inspiring stuff. Empowers people from all walks of life. Brilliant stuff Ken!

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