Characters. Part I.

Characters Pt.1.


Lenny Hayes has it. I’m sure. He plays with it, in a way that defines a person. Character. What a jet! I’d be stoked to meet him. Just to say thanks.

But there is character, and there are characters.

The game needs ‘em. I need ‘em. On the footy field, in my life. They make it all less grey. They are the spark.


Billy Picken was a legend. A Collingwood CHB. Loved the horses. Was always faking niggles at half time, so he could get the trainers to place a few bets. He was a backman who flew for speccies, often with his tongue out. He talked to himself:

“Watch Billy take this screamer… Watch Billy take this screamer… Ooooohhhhh, nice one, Billy!”

“Look out! Billy’s coming through! Billy’s coming through!”

One of his opponents told me he always thought he was a chance against Picken in the third, because that was when he’d drift towards the scoreboard to check the race results.

Geoff Cunningham was a character who had character. I remember, one game, he took a strong grab. His opponent, pretending to go for the ball, punched him fair in the back of the head. Joffa lunged at him, but stopped himself, quickly went back, kicked the ball as long and deep into the forward line as he could. The play followed the ball, the umps followed it, the telly did, the crowd did. Then the cameras cut back to the wing. All you could see was Cunningham jogging away, his opponent’s feet in the air.

It’s not that he was all knuckle. Anyone can be knuckle. He was smart.

Crazyhorse Cowton from North got his name because he’d be out on a wing, on his own, baulk his shadow and smack into a pack. Time and again.

Doug Hawkins had it and was one. Goddamn! It’s funny, some people wear a jumper and it becomes who they are. Others are born with it. Wear it as they walk and talk and grow into men, under their skin.

Doug WAS Footscray, and always will be.

In him I can see its weatherboard houses, tough old duffs, lanes, humour and back-streets.

Sometimes the character part fogs the overall view. People forget that Jacko was one of the best full-forwards of his day. Kicked about 4 a game. Healy, then Ablett, kicking about 70 by feeding off his crumbs.

Big, barrel-chested, ugly, squeaky voice, he was barely a teenager, tiling roofs, yet he’d tell people: “I’m going to be famous one day.”

Bugger me. Spot on.


Robbie McGhie was Robbie, McGhie!


Derrick Kickett was one. Nudged out of a flag by Watson and Wallis because Sheedy needed some old school inspiration and a thug.

We all bled for him, because we liked him so much.

Sheeds was both, well before he retired. I think it helped him as a boss. He’s always found room for chaacrters in the teams he’s coached.

I was there for one of his last games. He got poleaxed in the back pocket and lay there, face down. Christ, I thought he was dead! Nobody seemed to give a damn. The players and umpires followed the ball, leaving him lying there, unmoving. None of the trainers ran out. Suddenly, his head poked up, looked around, saw everybody was down the other end, realised he wasn’t going to get a free, shrugged his shoulders and trotted off.

No wonder he retired. Everybody was onto him.

Jack Dyer once told a great story of when he staggered out of Young & Jackson’s, roaring drunk. He was holding onto the traffic light to stay upright, when a copper came and told him he would take Jack in if he couldn’t say where he was.

“Of course I know where I am, Officer,” Jack slurred, raising his wobbly head, squinting hard. “I’m at the corner of Walk and Don’t Walk…”

Ray Bryne gave Kevin Bartlett a toothless comb, tucked into his sock, for his 400th game.

Rex used to stand in the outer calling games to himself.


Not all characters have to be show ponies. Brownie is a character because he’s such a damn Bloke! Fair dinkum, look through all the old digger photos. I’m sure he’s in the mix!

Tim Pekin, ex-Fitzroy and St.Kilda skinny-man was a quite sort. Who drove a big, old Valliant, lived behind a St.Kilda band venue, wore cowboy boots and didn’t eat meat. He was what he was, and bowed to no-one about it. Played AFL his way.

A fair, 200-plus game player. What a hero of a man!

What the hell was it about Fitzroy? They had Zanotti, Dundas, Mason. I think they even had Ironmonger at one point. I never understood how anybody could NOT barrack for them?

How much fun was it when Jarrod Malloy would crack the shits at full back, tuck the ball under his arm and charge like a furious bull in a straight line, bashing and crashing, until somebody finally brought him down. He had no intention of kicking it. It bordered on self-harm.

And Fitzroy also had the best of them all.




A beefy CHF at Melbourne, who was given the flick. Lost all his weight, became a mean, lizard of a thing. Won Fitzroy’s last ever B&F from the back pocket. Still, the Bears didn’t want him. Said he was all the things we liked about the bloke.

Too wild.

Too crazy.

Liked the grog.

Not obsessed with training.

His own man.

They mustn’t have watched him enough, because they forgot one thing. He was Proud! Damn proud. I could see it in how he played.

At North, apart from winning a flag, he would wear a loose t-shirt while everybody else was in team suits, and, word is, was a menace off the field. Slippery on the sauce. Soon enough, he was gone. Nobody else wanted him until Brisbane threw him a lifeline.

Three more flags later, there he was, a pocket of individuality. A mean thing, now a winger. A running machine. Only someone as tough as Matthews could have seen what was and what wasn’t important about the bloke. What he still had to give.

The tatt that covered his back, of Ned Kelly in front of a blood red moon, lifting his helmet to reveal a skull head said more than a sleeve ever could.

It was his thing. To be seen around mates and family, when the jumper was off.

I stopped barracking for an AFL club when Fitzroy went Up North. Good on Brisbane! But I’m loyal like that.

Still, I always barracked for Pike.


Dipper, Dermie, Justin Madden, The Flying Dutchman, Rotten Ronnie, Tilt Carter, Round, Brownless, Hardy, the 80s were thick with them. I reckon every decade has been. It’s just that colour isn’t the sort of thing that gets written into the history books.

That’s why talking footy is so important. Why pubs, their bar-staff and ghost ships, are important. Why barbies and lunch breaks and train rides are vital to footy.

Characters, more often than not, come covered in stories. Things beyond the scoreboard, that keep football a sport, full of humans, rather than a betting opportunity.

Talk keeps the stuff that matters alive.


Characters are worth a thousand stats. They defy logic and cold common sense.

A lot of people hated Capper, but they loved hating him! And, in the end, when it was time for him to retire, they loved him, because they knew they’d miss it. Same with whores, politicians and David Rhys-Jones.

I know that Libba was a mongrel, but that’s why I liked him. That Crackers could carry on. That Don Scott was, at times, a surly shit who fought his own teammates at training. That Noonan was overweight. That Fev is a nong.

So are most of the people I know! That’s us out there!

For better or worse.


Eddie Betts, with his Ginger Megs shorts, small size and stupidly freaky moves is us. The us we want to be. Hell, yeah!

Out there, loving it.


Grinning like Rohan Smith…



  1. Great read. I’m mentally trying to fill a side with current playing characters. It’s pretty thin. Would love to see who you think would make the grade of today’s playing stocks.

  2. Matt Zurbo says



  3. Matt Zurbo says

    Freesk! Yeah, I reckon there are characters, but with today’s control and discipline we don’t get to see it in them.

    Johnston, Mooney, Betts, Didak, Is Daisy a character, or just a good/bad haircut with amazing ability and work ethic? Bob Murphy, Barry Hall, King, Jumping Jack, Brownie, I am sure they are out there. Shame that part of them his hidden from us, is all.

  4. When I ran in to Crazy Horse Cowton a few years ago he was working in Indigenous affairs in Cairns.

  5. Skip of Skipton says

    Matt, here’s a very rushed rough copy from my time watching footy.

    B- Mad Dog Muir, Tilt Carter, Val ‘Ooh!’ Perovic
    HB- Flying Doormat, Puffing Billy, B.Pickett
    C- Dougie, AJarman, Pants Millane
    HF-R.Kink, Dermie (circa ’88 with green boots and big poncy blonde permed mullet), Fabulous Phil
    F-Aker, Grenville Deitrich, A.Jakovich
    R-Galloping Gasometer, Lingy, R.Wearmouth

  6. Malby Dangles says

    Some characters there for sure Matt. I always liked Doc Wheildon for the Roys. I reckon half of an all time team would be listed within Jack Dyer’s Wild Men of Football series (with Jack Dyer as Captain).

  7. Matt Zurbo says

    Those books area great read, Malby. Mopsy must have been a lunatic. HOW COULD I HAVE FORGOTTEN THE DOC!? I remember him once getting rubbed out. Two weeks for the hit, another three for the bowl hair cut.

    As usual, Skip, you are a gun! So many options. Rene Kink is a must in any Characters team. Thank you, mate.

    Crazy Horse and the Water Buffaloes. Sounds like a Jim Jarmush film, John.

  8. nicko longabaugh says

    Cracking piece.

    Dusty Martin at Richmond looks like a character, although Push-Ups has him covered for passion so far.

    Jackie Riewoldt definitely … has been known to wish the goal umps well and that they have a good game; not being a smartarse, just being friendly.

  9. Great article Matt. Great team, Skip. Particularly liked your smattering of Croweaters. Fabulous Phil, AJarman and the incomporable Grenville Dietrich. Kicked over 100 in a season for North Adelaide. Great stories about him being injured riding his bike home juggling a pizza and a 6 pack and falling off. Centrals took him out on the turps on a Friday before a match, and he kicked 12 against them.
    Remember seeing Robbie Muir play for Port Adelaide in the SANFL at the end of his career. Pretty sad because all he wanted to do was fight. There was no sense or art or passion in it. Just sad. Not like a Rhys Jones or a McEnroe who turned it on when they felt slighted or needed to unsettle an opponent who had the better of them.
    Port Adelaide had a bloke called David Granger (generally known as ‘Grave Danger’) in the late 70’s and early 80’s who was a pretty good Centre Half Forward, and the most calculated and violent hitman I have seen. First bloke rubbed out on video evidence when he got 10 weeks for taking out half the Glenelg team in the ’81 preliminary final. Port lost by 1 point. Justice and why I find it hard to feel sorry for the pitiful Port teams of today. They broke a lot of bones and hearts with their ruthlesness in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. Grave Danger was SA’s Mopsy Fraser.

  10. Richard Naco says

    As much as I appreciate seeing Lingy there, The Character of Pivotonian legend was, is & always shall be Max Rooke. Not inherently savage (despite his penchant for bone crunching tackles) nor a noted party animal, but just a fabulous free spirit. Pictures of Max riding an old fashioned deadly treadly to training in his Cat’s gear (shorts & shirt) abound, and this was also the man who reintroduced the Vespa to Geelong.

    One year he decreed that the only language that could be spoken in his home was Italian, and there are countless other stories of his wonderful eccentricities.

    Gone from the playing list to our collective regret, but still very much playing on in the hearts of all of us whose lives were enlightened by his aura of whimsy (and the most kamaikaze tackler of this millenium).

  11. Richard Naco says

    Correction: Italian was spoken in the Rookery on Tuesdays!

  12. Alovesupreme says

    Surely the Geelong eccentric ranks must include Austin McCrabb?

  13. Matt Zurbo says

    It’s those little stories that are gold!! Jack wishing the posts good luck. Fantastic! Great points about Muir, Peter. No passion in it, indeed.

    Richard, that was a corker tribute to Rooke. Wish I’d known that stuff when he was playing.

    McCrabb, yes! I would have decked Blighty if I was him. Making him stand out of the huddle like that.

  14. Alovesupreme says

    Buddha Hocking rolling his ankle while having a kick to kick with the kids on his garbage truck run ought to put him in the frame also.
    Tiger Crosswell is a certain inclusion in my roll-call of characters; Ron Wearmouth is also a merited inclusion in Skip’s team.

  15. Andrew Starkie says

    Got Crazy Horse’s autograph at Arden Street one Tuesday night when I was in primary school. He drove a kingswood. I remember his big smile and long blond hair. He looked like he enjoyed life.

    Mick Nolan?

  16. Matt Zurbo says

    Supreme, yeah, have been waiting to see if someone would mention Tiger.
    I agree Starkie. That was why I liked him so much. And, yes, my learned dislexia strikes again. Nolan. The Galloping Gasometer.
    Surprised no Geelong fan has mentioned Big Larry! Or Carlton fans ‘Wow’ Jones. Anyone who has a ‘W’ tattooed on each bum cheek to spell Wow when he bends over, is a sure starter. Also, Turley (sp?) from West Coast looked like a surfer who got lost on the way to the beach.

  17. Matt Zurbo says

    Dear Skip…

    B. Monkie, ‘Wow’ Jones, Bob Heard.
    H.B. Flannagen (sp?), Carl, Barnsie,
    C. Spider E, Big Nick, D Scott
    H.F. Sammy N, Crackers, Sammy K.
    F. Harry, Dyer ©, Ironmonger

    R. Biff (Balm) Bam (Brown), Mason

    Inter: Minton, Mooney, Nolan, Round

    Coach: Teasdale’s Brownlow suit.

    Haha! Go, you big donks!

  18. Alovesupreme says

    The footy record had a feature on Wow, a couple of weeks back. The writer said that Wow’s tattoo was an urban myth. Since it also indicated that Wow is these days a respectable figure in the finance industry, that may just have been misdirection, a gesture towards political correctness.

  19. Matt Zurbo says

    Than ks Supreme. I do not believe them. Not for a second! Haha.Either way, then or now, we were decived. ‘Wow’ out of the team! Mooney to FB, Locket onto the bench for a ten minute spell on the ball. (remember that fix-all solution at St.Kilda?)

  20. Phil Dimitriadis says

    Nice piece Zurbonator,

    I reckon characters existed because there was more time in the old days. The fast pace of today has not allowed the breathing space for play and for barracking. For what it’s worth here are my fave 22 of the best characters.

    Backs: Ian Cooper- Rod Carter- Stan Magro

    HB: Robert Klomp- Billy Picken- Les Parish

    Centers: Mick Turner- Greg Burns- Geoff Cunningham

    HF: Peter Bosustow- Dermott Brereton- Darren Jarman

    Fwds: Tony Buhagiar- Mark Jackson- Stephen Milne

    Rucks: Don Scott- Chris McDermott- Dale Weightman

    Inter- Doc Wheildon, Martin Pike, Darren Millane, Andrew Jarman.

  21. Matt Zurbo says

    I think we are of the same vintage, Phil! Ahhhh, Klomp…! Give the man a tv!

  22. Damo Balassone says

    Gents, loving this discussion but there is surely one name missing:

    Paul Van Der Haar

    Vanda’s exploits on and off the field are legendary – particularly for those of us who grew up out Ringwood way.

  23. Matt Zurbo says

    Damo, the only reason I did not mention Vander is I have put him in every second piece I have written and did not want people to think I had the hots for him! Haha. A bloke I would totally have enjoyed playing footy with, for sure. The other one is Crazyhorse.

    And Francis Bourke for other reasons.

  24. Skip of Skipton says

    Been busy and haven’t revisited this thread until now, but wow!

    PeterB I know and love Grenville from his appearances in the VFL night series cups for North Adelaide (pre-1987 when the grand finalists from the SANFL and WAFL played). I also included A. Jarman from those days also, aswell as his AFL career. Michael Aish’s professionalism didn’t do it for me.

    Heard about Dave Granger/Grave Danger from a friend who lived and played footy around the Mt.Gambier region for a few years back in that day. He was in Edenhope (Vic) ((hometown of Fabulous Phil)) but they got the SA telly because they were on the border etc. He also reckons G.Cornes was a magnificent footballer.

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