Almanac (Footy) Memoir: Being the nineteenth man



I have an older brother John, ten years my senior with whom I share a competitive streak. We have both run many marathons, road races, fun runs and cross country events, he has a 2:43 PB, me a 2:48. He plays golf off a 12 handicap, me off 7. We are a very well-travelled family and the six siblings we vie for having visited the most countries, I’m nearing 100 and as we are not going anywhere in a hurry I think I have him covered. We both played footy in the days of our youth, John was invited down to Hawthorn “for a look” and I was invited to Richmond, which went well until they learnt I lived on the wrong side of the street and wasn’t in Richmond’s zone. John’s PC packed up a while ago and so far he has refused to buy another saying he doesn’t need one any more. He has a new whiz bang phone, but Luddite-like knowledge of how to use it and so couldn’t log on and post anything on the Almanac website for example. You see we both think we can write a bit and have had stories published here and thereabouts. I would like to share this one below with you all, as even I have to begrudgingly admit it’s pretty damned good………….


Being a Melbourne teenager I dreamed every night of becoming a VFL player. And, of course, when I won a suburban Best and Fairest award aged sixteen, I dreamed about it all day as well. In 1959, the AFL hadn’t been born, but the VFL was intensely competitive and all of the State had been zoned into various areas and allocated to all of the twelve clubs.

I lived and played in the Camberwell area in Hawthorn’s zone and we were scheduled to play against Richmond area clubs in the inter-divisional play-off. Twenty two players were selected from all the teams in the Camberwell division and when I was nominated I could almost see my name in the papers. All this intensified when we learned that Hawthorn and Richmond VFL teams were sending talent scouts to assess the players. The match was to be played in Burnley in two weeks. I never learned if the Richmond players ever trained together but the Camberwell players didn’t even meet prior the game. Most of them were completely unknown to me and the two other players from Ashburton (part of Camberwell).



Mum dropped me at the ground in our 1954 Ford Consul. Cool, sunny and still, a perfect day for footy. It was along walk across two ovals, but there was big crowd of about 200 gathering as I reached the little change sheds. Just about shaking with excitement, I didn’t care about the muddy puddles near the entrance and the smell of possum pee in our crowded room.

Very quickly the appointed coach and his assistant got going and we had our boots and jumpers on as we gathered around the blackboard with all the chalked names and positions. I had always been a rover or played on the wing but there was “J.Wilson” in the back pocket! As far as I could judge I was the smallest player in the team. What the hell was I doing in the back pocket? The coach is nuts! We also had twenty two players in the change room but only eighteen names on the board, so I was at least there for the kick-off and not the 19th or 20th man. I was trying to adjust to being a backman and worrying how big and hard my opponent might be. I was also fearful that he also could be a skilled rover and kick three or four goals on me. The last thing I wanted was to be dragged in disgrace from the ground.

The coach is talking, only minutes to go. “Do this, do that…Big Joe Wilson, when you leave the pocket, go straight into the ruck!” JOE WILSON! BIG JOE WILSON! There he is, the big, boofy, unfit looking bastard! I’m not in the team. Not selected. Not even spoken with to soften the blow. My head hangs down so the players can’t see my tears of shock and rage. That’s me, a sixteen year old baby. That’s me, can’t even get a game. I’m ready to scream, to kick somebody, to punch the dumb coach, whoever he is. Who is he to judge…so PISSED OFF!

Then the siren blasts and its time. “Go Camberwell! Go Hard!” The team jogs out into the sunlight to the cheers and clapping of three hundred people. And I’ve run out with them. Stuff them! At least I’ll get a run before they discover I’m an extra man. Wondering where I can hide and not be noticed I jog down to the back line and watch Joe Wilson shake hands with an athletic looking 6’3” Richmond ruckman. I drift back nearer the centre where I blend in with more players. It’s weird not having an opponent. Weirder still knowing I’m an illegal player! How long before they notice and pull me off? The first bounce and the ball is kicked out and I take a diving chest mark. Minutes later Richmond is attacking, the pack misjudges the ball flight and I mark again. Then I do it again. Incredibly soon the siren wails the end of the first quarter. I’ve had eight kicks and four marks.

As we change ends an official runs up to me and demands my name and position. “John Wilson, back pocket”. Richmond is appealing against nineteen men. Our coach sprints up to me. “There’s been a mix-up, but keep doing what you are doing” and he pulls another player off.

Richmond is bigger, fitter and faster. They are also more skilful and all day we are on the defensive. Our forwards hardly get a kick and we lose by twelve goals, but I’ve seen plenty of action and I’m astounded when I win Camberwell’s best player.

Two weeks later Hawthorn F.C. want to have a look at me and invite me to train at Glenferrie Oval with the U19s (thirds). Just three training runs later I’m told “too slow, too small, poor disposal.”

The next year Bob Skilton from South Melbourne, who had won the ’59 Brownlow Medal, turned up at our Ashburton award night and presented me with our Best and Fairest. Skilton, one of the all-time greats was the same height as me but twenty four kilos heavier, faster and stronger. I couldn’t have stopped him with a sledge hammer!

Twelve months later I had discovered surfing and footy wasn’t so important to me anymore. But thanks Joe Wilson, its always been a marvellous memory as this was my first experience as a nineteenth man.




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About Ken Wilson

Left footer, golfer, runner, well travelled, sometime writer, volunteer, live arts/music lover, self employed, school drop out and Tiger tragic.


  1. Daryl Schramm says

    That is one fabulous story. Love it. 19 players on the ground and still got done by 12 goals!

  2. Kevin Densley says

    A really enjoyable read!

  3. Classic.Imagine if he’d played VFL footy.

    PS What’s the remotest of the 100 countries?

  4. The most exotic is Yemen, what a place! Nothing like it on the planet. It is very difficult to get into, and in the current situation presently impossible. I have a dream to get back there in order to visit Socotra Island. Look it up, unique! Iceland & Easter island polar opposites and yes, I know EI is part of Chile.

  5. Not sure which is more enjoyable… The Preface our the actual story! Maybe that’s part of the competitiveness!

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