Almanac Footy: Remembering The Seventies – Carlton Full-Forward Peter McKenna


(This is an edited version of an article first published on the Blueseum website in 2015)


From 1965 to 1975, Collingwood’s Peter McKenna was the first ‘pop star footballer’. Idolised by Magpie fans, he was a dashing, deadly-accurate full-forward who kicked 838 goals in 180 games for the Magpies, including 13 hauls of 10 or more.


By 1975 however, age and injury had begun taking their toll, and midway through that year, an opponent’s knee crashed into McKenna’s lower back during a Reserves match. He was rushed to hospital, and had part of one kidney removed. That incident ended his season, but he was keen to play on, so the following year, Collingwood seconded him to the Devonport Football Club in Tasmania to assess his future. In his 17 games with the Tassie Magpies, McKenna booted 79 goals. However, when he again approached Collingwood about a comeback, he was told there was no longer a place for him on their list.


Meanwhile, Carlton was struggling with the anguish of losing the previous year’s Preliminary Final to North Melbourne by a solitary point. When the news broke that McKenna was open to offers, the Blues match committee decided that he was worth taking a punt on. Collingwood asked for, and got 1972 Premiership wingman David Dickson. McKenna got Carlton’s number 27 guernsey, and the opportunity to make the Blues attack his domain.


At first, McKenna’s arrival at Princes Park was not universally popular among the Carlton faithful. He had been a despised rival, and many Blues supporters agreed with Collingwood that he was past his best. Only those who recalled his stellar 1970 season (when, in four clashes against the Blues, he had kicked bags of 8, 9, 9 and 6 goals respectively) thought he might have something left to offer.


Well, was the McKenna experiment a success? Probably not, because it failed in its primary objective of getting the Blues into another final series. Carlton wound up the year sixth on the ladder, and it was obvious by mid-season that McKenna was a spent force – particularly after he was quoted as saying that he hated playing against Collingwood. Still, he had some memorable moments – like when his classical right-foot drop-punts produced 24 goals in five matches between rounds 3 and 7.


Overall, McKenna averaged better than three goals a game in his 11 matches as a Blue, and his VFL career ended on a positive note when he steered through four majors in Carlton’s big win over Melbourne at VFL Park, Waverley in round 18, 1977. On that same day, a young Ken Sheldon kicked six goals, and a barrel-chested teenager named Wayne Harmes impressed on debut in guernsey number 54.


In 1978, McKenna was cleared to VFA club Port Melbourne. Later, he also turned out for Geelong West and Northcote before his retirement in 1980. When his playing days were over, he became a long-serving and popular football commentator for the Channel 7 network.


Footnotes :


While at Collingwood, McKenna recorded two pop songs; Things to Remember and Smile, both of which made the Melbourne singles charts. Later he published a book; My World of Football, which was floridly subtitled; ‘the candid, provocative, innermost thoughts and technical secrets of an Australian football hero’.


Early on, he became a regular on Melbourne television, and in 1971, he joined Daryl Somers as the first co-host of Hey Hey It’s Saturday, which was broadcast on Saturday mornings by Channel 9. But after eight episodes, the Magpies told him to choose between television and football, so he was replaced by Ossie Ostrich.


McKenna began his working life as a teacher at Fairfield state school, a job that lasted until he became a VFL star. After a varied business career and almost two decades as a football commentator, he was appointed a chaffeur to the Victorian Parliament in 2004.


And what about David Dickson?


Like McKenna, he was carrying injuries by 1977 and didn’t play a senior match in his short stay at Victoria Park. He retired from the VFL by year’s end, but still had a passion for the game. In 1978 he was appointed coach of the Bayswater Football Club and began a new phase of his life that would occupy the next 30 years.


He coached VFA heavyweights Preston in 1993, and was re-appointed for 1994, but work pressures intervened and he was forced to resign pre-season. Instead he took over at Noble Park, then Balwyn in the Eastern Football League – taking Balwyn to their first Premiership in 56 years.


However, it was the advent of the elite TAC Cup Under 18 competition in 1992 that brought Dickson’s abilities to fruition. “The TAC Cup was a new concept, and the way to go with modern football development, ” he later explained. “I spoke to Kevin Sheehan (AFL National Talent Identification Manager) about getting involved, and he said “you’re too much about winning Dicko – we’re about developing players.” A few years later, working with the Oakleigh Chargers Kevin rang again and said; “we want you to coach the Victorian Under-18 Metropolitan squad.” “I was really surprised, because I didn’t think a young bloke coming out of the commission area of Coburg would ever coach at that level.”


But coach he could, as he ably demonstrated over the next decade, as his representative teams dominated the Under-18 National Championships while a long list of players that he had helped develop were drafted by AFL clubs. Between 1997 and 2008, Dickson coached Vic Metro to a staggering 34 wins from 38 matches – and when he retired in July 2008, his team had just won their eighth National Under-18 Championship from the twelve contested since 1997.



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Conscription into the army ended Warren's dreams of becoming either a league footballer or a professional musician, but military service did at least teach him how to handle firearms, and to work behind a bar.


  1. G’day Warren, just to clarify Peter McKenna’s career post Carlton.

    He was at Geelong West in 1978, when he snared 67 goals.

    Then he came down to Captain Coach Port Melbourne where he got the ‘Burras’ into a preliminary final, as well as kicking 52 goals himself. Port Melbourne had experienced a major loss of senior players after the 1978 season, so McKenna did a sterling job getting them to a preliminary final.


  2. Warren Tapner says

    Thanks for clarifying that, Glen!
    Now to give my researcher a slap.

  3. Loved watching McKenna as a player – the Beatle hair & clinical kicking – despite the jumper. Terrific narrative arc to your story – with the flows & ebbs of McKenna’s life & footy career – but particularly liked the conclusion about Dickson’s elite coaching career. Demonstrates the old adage that the best players don’t make the best coaches.
    Thanks Warren.

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