‘Hawthorn’: In the words of John Kennedy Snr




Old Dog writes:


I had the pleasure of spending an evening with John Kennedy Snr about five years ago. It was a part of my book Champions All, in which I spent four years trading stories and often beers with 171 of the game’s greats, just talking, footballer to footballer.


To speak to John was the thrill of a lifetime. When he stood over me as I sat on his couch, and gave full voice to Churchill’s ‘Never Surrender’ speech, well, my hairs are STILL on end!


Many of the players he coached and former teammates spoke about him in God-like fashion. Some of the hardest players in the history of the game thought he was too hard. Some of his opponents said it was like playing against a bag full of elbows. They said he was never dirty, just tough. Determined. Proud.


I found him a gentleman, and a joy. A lover of the game, and life.


I present to you, lovers of footy, in memory of a great coach, footballer and genuine family man, an introductory quote from Ray Wilson, followed by my full, 10,000 word chat with John Kennedy Snr… A transcript I could only title: ‘Hawthorn’.





Ray Wilson, Hawthorn ’66–72: In ’67 John Kennedy came back. He doesn’t swear, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t smoke, he’s faithful to his wife. He does have a sense of humour, but it’s all measured. He’s erudite, he’s intelligent, he punches walls and it doesn’t hurt his hand, he runs a half marathon before breakfast and the other half after dinner. He’s a God-like figure.

You’d never shirk a physical issue under John. The pain that I might give myself on the field was nowhere near as great as the pain of facing him off it. Not a great tactician, but an amazing motivator, and amazing leader.

’68, first game of the year, out at Essendon, we get belted 26 goals to 16. Tuesday night, we’d gathered around . . . Kennedy says, “Peter Hudson kicked twelve goals on Saturday. Good game. We didn’t win. Peter, the television and the people are going to be talking to you. They’re going to say, ‘Do you wish you were playing at Richmond so you could play finals?’ ‘Peter,’ they’ll say, ‘do you wish you were at Geelong so Billy Goggin would be kicking these lovely passes to you?’… “All those questions are designed to separate you from your teammates, and Peter, I know that will not happen.” Fair dinkum, I looked at the sky as if God had spoken. His ‘Don’t Think’ speech; there were dozens better.






John Kennedy Sr.



I grew up right behind the Camberwell football ground. We followed the association as kids. Laurie Nash, great player, one of the greatest. He came from South Melbourne to Camberwell and we used to all think the sun was just rising for him. He just about glowed when he went past. In that time you played footy and cricket, that was it. Footy in the winter, cricket summer.


We would play until dark, any weather. I was in Grade 5 at Our Lady of Victories down there, and we were going to play South Camberwell Saint Cecilia’s but the nuns, they didn’t know anybody who would umpire. I came home and asked Dad would he do it. Well, Dad was fairly older, he said he would, but he wasn’t all that pleased about it. You know, to get out in his suit. On the day and it was raining like mad. We were sitting in class, and looking out – will he come, won’t he come… Finally the knock on the door! Dad came through for us, and we all went down and played.


Footy was, you didn’t ask, you just all played, right through the school day. Then, as you got older, also in the school team, and at De La Salle.


As a child, Footy, for me, wasn’t about ambition. Our parents, and I still subscribe to this, believed that’s it’s a team game and it’s not necessarily that you’re in a football team, you could be in a music team, it’s good for kids. Apart from at home, football’s the one opportunity to let each of you feel you’re not the only pebble on the beach. You’re in a family when you’re in the team.


My Dad barracked for Essendon, but I used to follow Collingwood. He’d take me on Saturdays. We’d go everywhere that Collingwood played, except Geelong. Ron Todd played at full forward, and Des Fothergill, he was a wonderful player. The players, you knew them all, Glen Fitzgerald, Marcus Boyle… You got to know Collingwood supporters; they’re all made the one way.


Going to Victoria Park as a child, it was good… if you were a Collingwood supporter! (laughs) You were in amongst them all, and knew them all by sight. You all knew the same things about Collingwood and how we were going and all that.


Then I left the secondary school and after a couple of years in the public service I went in to the education department and university and finished that. Dad died before I’d left school. I wanted to try and finish the bulk of the uni work and get that out of the way before I concentrated on the football. So while I was at the teacher’s college I played for De La Selle in the Amateurs, they were in B-section. I managed to win a best and fairest there. Then, one day, Hawthorn’s Rick Hocking, their secretary, asked me to train with the seniors.


I still barracked for Collingwood at the time, but everything had been divided up. I was in Hawthorn’s zone. I was quite happy to go down to there. They were very good to me. They picked me to play in the first match of the year…


I did no good in my first game. 1950. Hawthorn were down, and Geelong were on the up. I was in the backline on Tommy Morrow, and Lindsay White was full forward. The game started, the ball was bounced, it came down towards us, and I learnt my first lesson in football… I came running out at the ball, and the voice behind me said, “Leave it John!”, so I did – and that was the first of Tommy Morrow’s four goals for the day. (laughs) So, I learnt never to go that call ‘Leave it’. It’s always, ‘Take it John!’, or ‘Take it Matt!’.


Kevin Curran was captain during my first season, there was a lot of turmoil because Alec Albiston had left because he had been promised the captaincy. There was a big kerfuffle about it. Anyhow, all the people I met there were friends, John O’Mahony and Roy Simmons, great years. We didn’t win a match! (laughs) Not one. But, we had a great coach despite all that. Bob McCaskill. He’d come over from coaching well at North. He was able to convince us, well, me anyhow, that each week we were going to win! (laughs). It came to the last game of the year, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. Bob had us believing we could beat Melbourne! But, we didn’t. It was 3 or 4 rounds into the next year before we won one, then we won a couple more. Four, all up, in that second year.


My third year Bob was crook. He had Bright’s disease. Jack Hale, a Carlton premiership player from the `30s, he was our assistant coach. He took over and we gradually got better. Jack was coach when we made the finals in `57 that was a big deal for us…


In my first year at Hawthorn, they were a great lot of fellas but, it took a little while for me to get used to. We’d play, be beaten and after the game the two teams all went and had a drink together. The blokes from the other mob would shake your hand and say, “Gee John, you only want one or two players and you’ll be a real good side.” For a couple of games I sort of believed this… Then I got sick of them saying that! (laughs). Sometimes, when we were almost getting there, the others were not so much more skilful, but bigger than we were. They’d just brush us aside and we’d get beaten. And I thought, ‘Well, if we’re going to get anywhere we’re gotta get a bit bigger too.’


Very happy club Hawthorn but, it was… Everybody gave it everything but, they really found losing socially acceptable. Jack Hale, when he took over as coach, said, “Look, when I was playing for Carlton, we’d come down here, we could be 10 goals down at three quarter time and we’d all be laughing! Because we reckoned we were a certainty to win…” That, as he understood, was the way the other clubs viewed Hawthorn. So, you can imagine (laughs), you didn’t have to tell me twice to install a hatred of that attitude into me! And Roy Simmons, and a few others…


I think that they’d been down for so long it became acceptable to just get beaten. Oh, I don’t denigrate the players, they’re some wonderful players there in that time but, the place, you know… I suppose the best way is to illustrate is when many years later at North Melbourne, if we were beaten on Saturday, North was a great club, but at least some of the people were smiling on Monday. Whereas at Hawthorn, when I was coaching there, if we got beaten on Saturday, two or three in a row, we’d be scowling until we won! It got that way that I thought never mind what they think of us, we got to start winning and then see how friendly we all are… (laughs).


At Hawthorn I was on the ball and under the eye a lot. I suppose I was happy to win the best and fairest the in my first year. Very happy. But, I got tired of… After a few months it became very clear that it doesn’t matter about that, what matters about the finals and the premiership. Never mind about he’s playing well, or he’s playing well


Not winning games, I’d personally do my best but, worry about it. Oh, yes, I didn’t like losing! (laughs) But under Jack we kept improving. Then, in ’57, the second last game of the season, we were playing Essendon at Hawthorn. If we won we couldn’t be displaced from the finals… and we did! Roy Simmons and I, we sprinted off the ground at the end of the game we were so happy about it! It meant a lot. Helping Hawthorn make the finals for the first time meant an enormous amount. Then of course, you gotta start winning finals…


Playing in and winning finals are different things all together. You dream of playing your best football in the finals but, it doesn’t always work that way. What you’ve got to do is have a great team. Hawthorn are a great team because, when one, two, three are not right at their top they can still win. The rest we all grit our teeth, and – Alright I’m not going so well, shut down my man, make it 17 to 17. We did that when we beat Carlton in our first ever final. That attitude I think is marvellous, you know, that’s what you’ve gotta do. It gradually got into my thick skull that that’s what matters.


Oh, yes. I think, when we lost the matches with Bob there, Bob was an amazing coach, way ahead of his time in many ways… “Get the ball” he’d say, “And handball it out!” That would eliminate turning from the game you know, give it out to the blokes on the backline coming past and running and kicking it to the open spaces, and then Jack Hale got going and made us relentless. Jack, he didn’t have any time for injuries. (laughs) Injured, out you went. He used to say the Carlton emblem was burned into your chest. He was great for Hawthorn in that way, points of pride. Not everybody liked Jack but, when you got to know him, the wonderful man he was, he did well. When we look back on him now, the things he used to expect you to just know! (laughs)


He trained us pretty hard. Bob was harder, though! Bob was a personality. He had us sprinting one night, sprint, sprint, sprint, it was raining and it was muddy, and we were gasping, then his voice came out and he said “Michael Fitchett, you’re not trying!” Mike had a college education, he says, “You’re dead right, Pop!” (laughs). It was in the dark you know, we thought that the earth was gonna open up and swallow us all up if anybody says that to Bob.


You couldn’t train players now as hard as Bob did, they’re too expensive. He put the ball in the middle and called it ‘ring a ring a rosy’ There might be 20-21 people and he’d number us, number 1,2,3… up to 7 or so, and he’d call out 4, and three 4’s would run out for the ball, after a little while you learn not to run blind, not protecting yourself. You went in to get the ball, but also made sure you’re not going to get slaughtered. He did a lot of that sort of thing, so we were able to sort of survive…


’58, and ’59 we missed out on the finals but, the focus was right, and I guess that everybody gave everything, we just weren’t good enough, almost mooching along. So, I suppose we were simmering. (chuckles)


The administration is terribly important and they were great at Hawthorn, we were very lucky there. Even my first coach, Bob McCaskill used to say that, “The most important aspect of any club is…” We all thought he was going to say the players, nup, “Administration.” There are so many good players that never win a premiership because of the administration. He always said, “You can have an ordinary team, as long as you have a good administration.”


When I became captain it didn’t change the way I played, I was pretty limited in my abilities but, I guess my attitude, well, a good example…


Jack was tough. He got on to Graham Arthur one day, out onto the field. Graham said he had an injured shoulder. Jack sent him out [to play] anyway. Graham was best on the ground. Jack said after: “I told you there was nothing wrong with you.”


We came in at half time once, and Jack started on me. He went crook! Blamed me for this and that and the other, said I wasn’t having a go. I was furious, so angry! After the game I stormed off, spat the dummy as it were. Come Tuesday I was still fuming. I said: “What are you going crook at me for at half time? I was giving it everything I had!”


He’s got a silly grin on his face, “Well, we won didn’t we?”


I said, “Well, yes.”


He said, “What you’re saying is true, but, the others, they all know you try. If I’m going crook at you, it might stir some of them up too.” That’s the way he saw it. (laughs)


There were some great ruckmen, then. Each week they just kept coming… There was Alan Gale at Fitzroy. Oh, John Nichols. Essendon’s Wally ‘Chooka’ May. Tough bloke. Ken Hands, played against Ken a fair bit, Ray Gabelich at Collingwood, he knocked my front tooth out! (laughs) Just came charging across and bang! It broke off. I couldn’t find it (laughs) They called him ‘The Bear’.

The family and I were over in Sydney one day looking at the bears in the Taronga Park Zoo, and who’s across at the other side but Ray Gabelich. We laughed, fancy seeing you here in the bear cage.


Some players were big on the banter. I was focused on the ball. That’s all you can do really. That’s what I say to Josh now – Eye on the ball and make that your object. Get your eye on the ball and go for it with everything you’ve got, go for the ball, you can’t be worried about the safety of other players, your own or theirs, or anybody’s, just go at the ball. And if you’re going at the ball you learn how to protect yourself, well, that’s what it’s all about. You take the risks, but don’t be stupid about it.


You start your thinking, ‘It’s a Grand Final, scores are level, 10 minutes to go – how do you play football?’ At that stage you can’t be worried about anything else when the ball is in dispute, you’ve got to get it! That’s what it’s about. And if, if they say, “Ohhh, you made head contact!” okay, you gotta cop what the rules are. But go out and go for the ball next time, just the same. That’s the way I reckon its gotta be played that way…


Jack Hale said to us – The best thing you can get out of football is the friends that you make. The last two or three years I’ve realised the truth of that. You get older and you really do value the friendships. If it hadn’t been for football, I’d never have met Roy Simmons, Dave Parkin, Ted Fletcher, all the players that I was with and the ones that came subsequently… The other thing football is about to me is – you’re intent is to play with everything you’ve got and get outside yourself and think of the team.


We were playing Carlton one day at Hawthorn and had them in a bit of trouble in the last quarter. I was in ruck, and Jack Howell the Carlton ruckman, big fella, was opposite me after a goal. I was going alright, I was getting back thinking, ‘I’ll hit this 50 yards down the ground!’, bounding, jumping, prancing about, you know waiting for them to come in and bounce the ball (laughs). The umpire bounced it and just as I took off, Carlton’s Graham Gilchrist came up and he went, swoosh! Took me out of the contest. A lot of blokes would jump up and start fighting Graham. I waited for the umpire’s decision, but, no, he missed it. I used to say to the players from then on, “I’m not advocating fighting but, realise what you’re up against. There is no justice in football, don’t look for it. You just gotta face up to the fact that that’s the way it went. Might have been unfair… Bugger that, you’ve still got to keep going! It evens out in the long run. Don’t expect anything in the way of free kicks or justice.” It disturbs me when I see Hawthorn blokes throwing their arms out, or looking at the big screen after a bad decision. Don’t do that! Concentrate! You know, get on with the game! I don’t blame the umpires.


The other teams hated playing at Glenferrie, because it was pretty muddy, in fact in the centre where the cricket pitches were would get on the nose. (laughs), Wet, winter, mud, stench, you’d be trying to slop through it… At training, as the team ran out, I’d say, “Everybody, including me, flat on your face.” You slithered through it, then got up and started training. Otherwise you’ve got blokes worrying about whether they’ve got white shorts on or not. Get used to it and get into it! Get it out of your system straight away (laughs).


I was there when Geelong blokes got out of the bus one day, and I was coach. Polly Farmer, and the Geelong boys, they all came in and ohhh, they were looking at the ground as they came, I could see their heads – uhhh it was wet and dirty, I thought, ‘That’s good, we’ve got them on the back foot already.’ We won.


Concentration, in all sport, is a big thing. People calling for free kicks when the ball’s gone out of bounds, no use doing that. Concentrate, you haven’t got time for that. In the same boat was the breeze and the wind. I would rarely waste time talking about it. Where you stood was fundamental.


I wanted to be a coach. I think with coaching I say, even now, the first requirement is you gotta want the job. Steve Kernahan at Carlton. He was such a great captain, not only his own game, but the way he’d direct the side, I thought he would have made a sensational coach. But, I said to Wes Lofts one day, “Oh, he’s a bit half and half”. It was good he didn’t do it. There are so many sling backs that come at you if you coach. You gotta want the job to get through.


Towards the end of ’59 I could see where we were going, and I thought, ‘Well, if Jack goes from the coaching job, I’d certainly like to see what I can do.’


As a captain I tried to be an extension of Jack out on the field. One of the first games that I played in the `50s, Ron Barassi was captain of Melbourne. One of his teammates must have put in a couple of short steps and Ron blasted him! I thought, ‘Geez, this is a bit different from me.’ and Lou Richards when one of his teammates banged it along the ground and Lou came round “Get up!”, I thought – ohh, it’s a pretty tough game you know, I came up from the other side of the tracks. I can see what they gained, because out there you have the respect for one another but, its football respect, it depends on how you react.


See, I was following Ron [Barassi] at North and tried to learn a bit too, from what I remember one of the blokes said “You know, must watch them to see if we can tackle a bit better”, better watch if you get Jim Krakouer or someone coming through with the ball and he’s gonna kick it, and I wanted someone to cross him and tackle so he couldn’t get his kick. I thought – these blokes are pretty expensive players, $100,000 a year or whatever it is. Oh well, blow it all. Then Johnny Dugdale said “Oh, Ron Barassi, he’d have 10 blokes across, each with a football ready to kick them hard, and the rest of the side take it in turns smothering each ten kicks.” I thought , ‘If it’s good enough for Ron, it’s good enough for me.’ I did that too and it worked. See, that was one of Ron’s wonderful strengths. He didn’t just say it once or twice, but he attended to detail. Marvellous. Learnt a lot from him.


I was pleased when I was appointed. They rang me and said, “You’ve been made coach.” I didn’t realise at the time that I got in by one vote. (laughs) The other applicant was Tubby Edmonds, who was coaching the seconds. Tubby was a good bloke but we were different in our approach.


Tubby Edmonds was a Collingwood player originally, a clever player. A Melbourne player, Dick Fenton-Smith, got reported. We were discussing it with Jack Hale. Guilty as sin. Tubby said, “The tribunal will never rub out a bloke with a hyphenated name.” (laughs) And he didn’t get rubbed out!


I got the team training and we got busy… and lost the first five matches. You could imagine it now, couldn’t you? They’d have the guns out! The reporters were at us, the only one of them I could speak to was Percy Beames. Some of them were trying to get the crowds to say “Ohhh, get rid of Kennedy!” Others would say “I’ll see if we can get John to play as well and coach.” We were really looking down the barrel.


At the start, I suppose one of my real weaknesses was that I just centred on one thing. I was always a poor judge of good players on the other side. I was totally immersed in the way out blokes were playing and what they were doing, and what they should have done.


I was terribly disappointed, because I could see that some fellas were trying to do what we wanted, but it got to the ridiculous stage where blokes were punching the ball out and they were in front. Those losses weren’t a very good memory, those first ones. General gloom I s’pose, week, after week, after week…


We were going up to play at North Melbourne, and we’re picking the team. Tubby Edmonds and Jack McLeod were on the selection committee. Phil Hay was our fullback. Tubby said, “I’d know what I’d do with him…” Jack McLeod cut him off, “No Tubs, now look, the team stays as is.” I said, “No, no, what is it Tub?”. He said, “Put him up at forward, he’ll kick ya three or four goals”. I thought about it, five losses, and said, “Right, we’ll give it a go!” Phil went out, kicked the 3 goals, played a great game and we won! The press thought I was a coaching genius! (laughs) Those sort of things happen. We won the next five, lost a couple and then we won the last six, and missed out on the finals by (clicks fingers) that much. It was bad luck because we were a desperate club in ’60 and Collingwood just got in ahead of us on percentage.


People were saying I should change the way I was doing it. There’s a bloke named Wayne Athorne from Xavier, he was an Olympic-type athlete, not a bad player, but only young, 19. I brought him in one day and said, “Look, we’ve lost these… Maybe the training is too hard, what do you think?” “No!”, he said, “You gotta go harder and harder!” This is a kid telling me so, I thought, ‘Well, that’s alright.’


We had a meeting of all the players when the club wasn’t doing well one year. I said “Righto, if you’ve got anything to say, say it first. You can all contribute.” They think that if you’re prepared to let them do that, you’re in a better mood to criticise the others. It was going to be controlled, but a free for all… Peter Hudson started off, “John, I know you want us to kick it long, but when they’re in the clear, I don’t tell you how to kick perfectly but, if they just have a bit of a look ahead and kick it to the forwards…” I thought, ‘That’s a pretty good point.’ Des Meagher comes in and says, “Ohh, I don’t know about that, up where I am on the wing, I’ve got to battle for every kick! I don’t see why you should get it on a plate?”. It was a bit chaotic for a while! I would say the meeting broke up in disarray. (laughs).


What I wanted from my players as a coach was simple; hundred and one percent! In the effort, in the practice of skills and the like. But, out on the field, just a really super attack on the game. Don Scott, there were highs and lows as far as Don was concerned but, there was never anything that a coach could grizzle about, because his application was so intense. You might be able to say look, if you turn this way or that way, or left foot or right. But, I mean in the endeavour, and the endeavour to set the example of the rest of the team to follow, and to get them to do what I wanted – couldn’t fault him. Dave Parkin was the same.


Dave came from Melbourne High; he was a Hawthorn boy right from the start. A skilful player. Cricket, footy, everything. Leigh Matthews wasn’t one of those, great footballer and not bad at tennis but, not as gifted as say Dave Parkin or Dermott Brereton or, most of those footballers you can take them to the golf course and away they go… and they’re good. Dave was like that. And he had wonderful application.


Dave, he was really unique. When he started as coach at Hawthorn, he was completely different from his predecessor, as I was. He brought all the players into it and got feedback from them. And he extended that at Carlton, particularly in the `95 premiership year, Koutoufides and all these guys. They were a good side with a good leadership group, and they were practically able to run the thing themselves. Dave was able to engineer it so that’s the way it worked; now, I could never try that…


Dave was the sort of bloke who was so loyal to whoever was there that he would carry it out onto the oval. Well then, when he took over, I used to always joke that he brought the witches hats to Hawthorn. Before long they had these witches hats and they were darting in and out around them, all that kind of thing, and he was able to communicate with the players and talk to them. Under him, Hawthorn were premiers in the ’78 year, he won more with Carlton and coached Fitzroy. He did a wonderful job at Fitzroy, they weren’t premiers but, he was a great coach. And since then he’s quite a remarkable fella, he never stops. If you were to put it to Dave you had some deserving cause in Tassie, wherever, he’d go every time. He’s bloke who will do the right thing, he’s not looking for a fast buck.


Sometimes when the training was pretty willing, you had to keep your eye out, you wouldn’t want any fights. But, these things happen on the ground, you get used to that, and training should replicate what happens in the match, only more. Good example, at North, I was talking to Jim Krakouer one day with the team, I was saying “Jim, don’t fight, we don’t want you to fight.” He was carrying on a bit, and costs us free kicks. He said, “Well, get someone to do the fighting for me!”


‘He’s got a point.’ I thought, ‘You better shut up Kennedy, or Jim will hang one on you, then that will be a sensation!’


Leigh Matthews, Leigh was remarkable. I used to think he was incredibly level-headed and impersonal. If you ran past him and knocked him over, he wouldn’t say, “Ohh, I’ll fix that bloke!”. No malice in that way at all. Playing Richmond one day at Princes Park and Francis Bourke, one of the greatest players ever, a bloke I admire, had Leigh in his sights. Leigh was coming round the boundary his eye on the goal and Francis went straight at him. And Francis, he’s pretty tough, Francis, he hit him, shirt-fronted him, should have grabbed him actually but, he shirt-fronted him, and Leigh, he bounced off him and he nearly went down, then he straightened up, he just maintained his balance, got on his feet and banged it through for a goal. And look, despite the way I coach football, I couldn’t help but clapping, I was coming down at quarter time and I really thought it was a tremendous effort. Leigh was like that. I think it was a great strength of his coaching too, he was impersonal, on the field he wasn’t out to fix up this bloke or this bloke, or chase this bloke or that bloke, he was just there, and a great ball handler.


Scott, Tuck, Matthews, what a trio. Each one completely different personalities. If you say everyone have a night off, they’d all go differently. Those three had come together for football.


I didn’t give any credit. One of the selectors said to me, “Oh, John, give so and so a pat on the back.” I said, “Look, he gets his reward when we win, that’s enough”. And I told the players the same.


Leigh’s mother said to me one day, Leigh had kicked 11 goals at Waverley; “Give him a bit of a ‘well done’…” I said “No, we won the match that’s enough”. Well, that’s alright but, when you’re dealing with the mother, the mother, you have to have a little bit of difference there and I lacked that. I think she understood at the finish.


I had great admiration for Ron Barassi, of course. Ron was such a good coach that everybody would try their level best. His players, your players, yourself.


I coached lots against ‘Yabby’ Jeans. The things you get from football? Knowing Yabby was one of them. We were great friends. My only regret is I didn’t meet him way back when we started, because, as players, he was St Kilda and I was Hawthorn. Then he was coach of St Kilda, then I was of Hawthorn. People looked at him and used to think he was terribly serious but, he wasn’t, he made me laugh. He came home one day from Geelong, Tom Hafey was coaching down there and they beat St Kilda. Mary was in the kitchen and she called out, “Tommy put it over you today.” (laughs). He said, “Mary, I’m going out that door, and I’m gonna come in again and we’re not gunna talk football!” (laughs) Imagine him saying it. It was funny to me because I know the bloke, (laughs) and I know Mary… They’re all different, you get to know people that way.


I got on pretty well with Lou Richards. He was pretty chirpy. He was Collingwood through and through, but he wasn’t as deadly serious as I was. He’d have a bit of fun. ’51 or ’52 we were out at Victoria Park. They were about 20 goals and we were 2. I was in the back pocket and Lou gets it only two yards from goal, and just to get me, handpasses to his brother, “You kick it Ron.” And Ron handpasses “No, you kick it Lou.”, “No, you kick it Ron…” (laughs) I just charged into the nearest one of them.


That’s the sort of thing, that’s helped to focus me on lifting Hawthorn.


Ken (Fraser) was a great fella, wonderful man. He is universally admired among football people. Players would shake hands before the game, shake hands after the game and nothing in between.  When we played in the Premiership in ’61, well, one game I watched our centre half back, Johnny McArthur, run out onto the ground. When he passed, Ken Fraser held out his hand. Johnny, he just looked somewhere else. Ken would think – ‘What have we struck here today…’ (laughs)


The ball in Norm Smith’s sides, generally speaking, went faster from end to end than it does now because of the long kicks. Now it would go drup, drup, drup, drup, we’re gonna be five minutes getting down there. Where as those Melbourne teams used to put the ball down the ground like mad. If you were playing in ruck you knew – you’d be the one who’s have to try and run back.


John Peck at Hawthorn, later Dunstall, those fellas were fast for a few yards but, not long running all the time, that’s what they’ve got now, plus the skill. You’re only centimetres inside the boundary and they’re running and they hit you on the chest, with the wrong foot. Most of them can do it, it’s pretty good.


’64 Melbourne were premiers. Their back pocket, Neil Crompton, kicked the winning goal. That was one of the many facets of Smithy’s genius. He was such a great disciplinarian but, he didn’t kill the daring in players. I mean, he would have probably thought, ‘You should have been in the back pocket…’ But, the bloke took the risk, followed his man down and kicked the goal! That’s great when that happens, if you give them their due. Tunbridge was the same, he’d take a risk like that. They were such a great side, wonderful side.



From the start of `61 my goal was to win the premiership, really. We were all sore at missing out in ’60. Our thinking was – no excuses, no excuses, whatever happens! That season we started four up and four down, then the last 12 we won.



The Semi Final against Melbourne was the key. Oh, it was close! We were pretty focused against Melbourne. Until then, they could always beat us, mostly because they had stronger blokes who would get it, bang it long and down they’d go. But we got Ian Mort and Morton Browne and some fellas who made us bigger, stronger, who could hold their own in the physical stuff…


Very late in the last, one kick in it, the ball was kicked right down deep into the Melbourne forward line. Big Bob Johnson grabbed the ball from the air, brought it just so close… And it just dropped out. Jack Irving was umpire, it wasn’t quite a mark but, he could easily have paid it. He didn’t, and it was whisked away straight down the other end, where Morton Browne took the mark in the goal square. One, two, three grabs – He got it! And he put it through. We were two kicks clear, and I knew we were safe.


That gave us the week off. Footscray and Melbourne had to have to tough game.


Footscray made it. They were pretty fast, and up on us after the first few quarters, but, just coming up the race, I thought that they looked pretty tired. There were no big moves at half time. I s’pose I felt we could do it from there. Six goals to one in the third quarter, we pulled away and won.


When we won the ’61 premiership, we went back to Hawthorn and the people there, I was amazed, I really was. The kids, three, four, they were there, old people over 80, who had followed them since the club was born, I was just one of the crowd and they were so… They were terribly emotional. I thought, ‘Football has a new dimension now.’ No-one was out to make a fast buck, they were just genuinely so pleased.


The main thing I remember was going back to the ground and all the people came. Certainly, my own mind was broadened to think well, the people have so many genuine feelings of gratitude and happiness, it was a great happy night.


Peter Hudson was a football genius, you know. Great for the team, and the club. He made the turnstiles click. People came just to watch Peter, and he was always good for a few goals. I’d be watching sometimes, I’d think. ‘How did Hudson go? Oh, he got six.’ A football whiz, he really was. I know he played full forward but, he could have played in the centre, he could have played anywhere.


My first impression, he was a country boy. He played a couple of games there, and it was wet this day, and Graham Arthur must have been injured and he was on the side sitting with me, it must have been his first year and Peter came through and there had been a lot of criticism of him, and he picked the ball up with one hand off the ground, not that I’m in favour of that. He picked it up, greasy wet ball, about 40 metres out, running flat out, kicked it dead on, one of those wobbly old punts. Straight through! And Graham and I looked at one another and we didn’t need to say anything, just the conditions at the time and the pressure, not many would have kicked it there. And, no squealing with him. He said to me once, we were playing Carlton and Lofty was getting stuck into him, he said, “What do you want me to do, John, like Johnny Peck, dish it out?” I said, “Just keep your eye on the ball, and keep playing the ball”. Otherwise you win one, you have to play a different sort of game, you win one free kick and he wins one, and you win one. I didn’t think Peter was like that, and he wasn’t either, he was just a great footballer. Some of the things he did, He was a good club bloke too, fit in pretty well, he comes over there and he’s got Kennedy telling him; “Run here, run there, and run there” (laughs). But, he never squealed about it, he just fitted in with the side…


One thing, when a bloke comes over from Tassie you don’t ask: “How do you go in the wet?” (laughs) They can all play!


Huddo was unique, I mean John Coleman – and I played against John – and I knew him pretty well because he used to pick me up to go out to work. And I think John could jump higher than Peter, Peter would get up when he had to, body a bloke. Coleman could jump straight through the air, you know, I saw the stops in his boots, that’s how high he was. I thought – my god! Well, that was John. Coleman, Lockett, Peter Hudson has the record, most goals per game, of all of them. They used to say. “You can’t do that!” but he could.


Sometimes he’d get further out than his 50 metres, and they’d say, ohh he’s a bit far out, he’d come back and kick a barrel punt, a torpedo, he’d put it straight through. Ron Barassi says – Tony Lockett is the straightest kick he’s ever seen, well it’s Hudson for me. I didn’t see Tony as much as Ron did but, Hudson’s always looked as though – uhhh, will this one go, and sure enough they’d go through. He came running off the ground after training one night, the race was here and the goals were there so, you had to kick it like that, and he just picked it up, fooling around, I was running after him with a few players, picked it up and he went bang! It went through, and I couldn’t resist so, I said “Oh, shit. Do it again”. So, he goes back, runs in again and he did it again (laughs), he’s really good, genius footballer.


Down the other end, well, Kel Moore was tremendous. Kel Moore, he wasn’t a fast runner. One of my friends used to say that he was so slow that he tricked the ball. (laughs). And oh, there’s a lot of blokes on the backline, Gary Young played half back, another great player there, and Dave Parkin in the pocket, and Simmo, all the Hay brothers played there, Norm Bussell played there a bit. Mostly Hawthorn people, you only watch the one side all the time.


The only fullback that had any sort of success against Hudson was Richmond’s Barry Richardson. He even kept him goalless one day. Those once in a blue moon games.


Wes Lofts at Carlton would try and rough Hudson up. Cowboy Neale, yes, he’d give them a bit of a shove. But man-to-man football wise, hip and shoulder, he was a great player.


After winning the premiership in ’61, ’62 we… lost ground. Ron Barassi said: “You gotta match Hawthorn’s desire to get the ball!” A lot of teams were able to do that, and once they achieved that, they were able to beat us in the delivery of the ball.


There could have been a bit of after-the-ball about it, too. We were premiers and it’s hard to shake it off. I mean in ’61, nobody got up and said, “We want to be premiers next year too!” We did, but we weren’t game to say it. And I think everybody finds it hard, how you deal with it I’m not sure. We’re back in ’63, got knocked off in the Grand Final by Geelong, but, ’62 was a disappointing year…


I took it personally, yes. It was my responsibility. I mean, the way things are now there’s all the pressure on coaches and that, that’s why I said you gotta want the job, and with that, alright you want the job – you succeed, you fail. In your own mind, the committee may say – He’s failed this year, we’ll get someone else. Or they can say – He’s failed but we think there’s enough there. You’re in their hands then. And I guess, there’s plenty of arguments to say – Well, I should have gone.


In ’63 we were beaten by Geelong in the Grand Final. Polly was doing well and Billy Goggin… Fred Wooller in the forward line, Fred was good. The Lord brothers… Oh, Geelong was a good side! They ran away with it in the end.


Johnny Elwood was our ruckman. And he and Polly Farmer were running in at the boundary throw-ins, and Polly would jump, putting his knee into Cocky Elwood’s back, and as he did that at the same time he’d grab it and handball it out. I said to Johnny, “Don’t let him do that! Squeal! Say to the umpire – Have a look at this!“. Well, out they went and this is the last game of the year, there’s a throw-in from the boundary, and up goes Polly exactly as I said. Cocky must have had a word, because the umpire stopped the game and had a word with Polly Farmer. And Polly simply didn’t go up that way again. He was able to change his game, and was still best man on the ground, it didn’t worry him one bit. He really won me there.


Of course, when it came to the finals, Polly would get the ball and handball it to Billy Goggin, and god, he used to do some damage! I remember saying to Jack McLeod “I wish to goodness he’d kick it, instead of giving it to Goggin all the time!” And just as I said that, Polly got the ball about half forward, turned and he did kick it, goal! (laughs) He really was a talented player.


In my household we were raised that family and career comes first, football second. Always. It’s why I finished my schooling before I went to Hawthorn. After `63 I got appointed to the Tech School at Stawell. I couldn’t travel every week for a few years. I coached up there. Country football.


The speeches were important. Mostly, they were researched. I made a comment in a losing Grand Final, “Do something” that ended up following me around; it’s got legs of its own. But, most of the things as far as I was concerned, you build up the respect, or dislike, or pleasantness, or unpleasantness at training. We understood one another at training. That relationship is there before you start. Then, a player might do things a certain way, like run and bounce the ball. Fine. At the same time he knows that I believe – A bloke is bouncing the ball, if you want to do that you go and kick a goal, you’re on your own. Then he might play on the Saturday, something’s happened, he’s getting beaten and I’m, “Why don’t you bounce it again!” (booming voice) Go ON, do that again… and AGAIN!” Now, that’s not speech making, it’s just the feeling, spur of the moment, and that’s what most of it was. I don’t make speeches.


When I yelled out at the players,  “Do something!” we had a few academics who were saying things like, “You gotta think before you do this…” and “You have to think that…” – For God’s sake, don’t think, DO something! That kind of thing happened a lot with me.


The first coach we had, McCaskill, first year for a number of us, from the city and the bush. We were at training, all the players had gathered around, out comes Bob. He might have had a few whiskeys, I don’t know, he said, “Gentlemen…” We all stopped. “Its later than you think.” He then turned and walked off the ground! (laughs). I looked around to the clock, its quarter to 5, the sun was shining, I didn’t know what he was talking about! (laughs)



2008, after the Grand Final, about 10,000 people out at Waverley, a little boy came up to me. He was only about ten or eleven, he said “Would you please say – Do something?” I said, “Do something.” The boy looked disappointed. I said it again. No, his face was still the same. So I said “DO something!“, and his face lit up! He ran straight over to his Grandfather, happiest day, they were laughing!


You pick things up on the way. I took from a lot of great orators throughout history. During the war, Churchill was a wonderful… You have to appreciate the times, speaking to the whole nation. When he said “We’ll fight them on the beaches, on the sand, in the trenches…” He didn’t say, “We shall never surrender”. He said, “We shall NEVHA! …surrender.” He was marvellous. Given the times and situation, his words, even the German boys that I knew could always understand Churchill’s power.


Norm Smith was marvellous too. Some politicians – Bob Menzies was gifted in that he was able to think on his feet. He was a member for where we grew up. I was at the Camberwell Town Hall when he’s talking away… the place was packed. It was during the war when cars and petrol and all these things were rationed, he was sneaking away, a bloke called out, “You outta be on the back of my barge, blow your head like a foghorn.”, and Menzies said, “Ohhh, and I wouldn’t mind having you on the back of my car as a gas producer.” Everybody laughed, you know. You gotta be good to be able to think of the funny answer that gets people whispering.


After three years at Stawell I was appointed at Hawthorn again. I didn’t have any difficulty fitting back in. But things had changed. North Melbourne now only had eight on their committee, each one with a very specific role. At Hawthorn, with 22 people on the committee, there would be constant arguments dominating the meeting, as to how the side was going. I had to have all the answers ready as to why we didn’t move this bloke, and why we should have moved this bloke. That kind of thing. Whereas at North – That’s your business. I suppose really, I preferred the Hawthorn way. Inevitably there are conflicts, but you learn to live with those. It was the great attraction of Hawthorn; despite all the arguments and fights at the committee table, when the meeting finished some time at two o’clock the next morning, that was it. Nobody went squeaking outside, nobody went beyond that. If you’re a family club, you don’t do those sort of things, you keep it within the family. Then I’ll tell you exactly what I think and you’ll tell me…


That’s the other thing about football – you don’t want to shoot your mouth off, for your own safety too. It doesn’t take long before you’re proved wrong, or proved right, whatever it might be. But, that’s footy, and that’s the attractiveness of it, you can never be real sure.


Peter Crimmins, oh, he was a great player. Once again, he’s a footballer that was gifted in all tennis, cricket, whatever you like. Crimmo was a natural. Leigh Matthews and Peter Crimmins were both rovers at the time, and my goodness they were a great combination. But, Pete had the cancer, you know…


We made Crimmo captain for his resilience, and his leadership. He bounced back all the time, you couldn’t keep him down. It was sort of not yet his turn, but, he was becoming a leader in the way he approached it and the way he was trying to carry out what we were doing. And I must say, very popular with the players, they liked his chirpiness and his cheek and all that.


His school teachers used to say how he’d always come up smiling. He was very talented and very fast, he could look after himself, he was naturally gifted. On Sunday morning we used to go down and play soccer just to wind down, and he’d carry on like a soccer player, he could kick the round ball with the back of his foot like Dave Beckham, very skilful you know, then he’d tear his shirt off as he kicked a goal, run up the ground. They all appreciated that bit of light-hearted stuff.


It was very sad when he had the cancer, particularly at the end when we came to pick the ’75 Grand Final side and left him out. I drove home with him that night, and he was very upset, and I didn’t blame him either…


He had come back from the illness at the start of the year, but had played the last five games in the reserves due to his health. Most of the selectors said they didn’t think he was fit. I agreed, though I did have the thought, ‘Well, if we get him out on the ground it might inspire the others a bit…’ But it was only a hunch. I didn’t have the guts to say, “We’re gonna play him,” because the others would have gone with me. I thought, ‘How far do you go?’ He has cancer. I know they all said “Oh, Kennedy’s tough,” but it’s a different thing with cancer. You get one knock…


So, he didn’t get in, and we lost by ten goals. He was one year off his death. It was a very sad time, and unique, I don’t think I’ve been in that situation before, nor since. He got lighter and lighter, I saw him on the Monday night and he just wiped down in weight. When we won the premiership in ’76, we took the cup up to him, and he was pleased. It’s very sad though.


That Grand Final, ’76, with Peter so close to passing, Ohhh, the players would have given their all for him! It often doesn’t succeed to say, “We want to win for so-and-so!” But, on that occasion… you’d have been made of stone if it didn’t make any difference. Great sadness, because he was extraordinary person, and talent…


The boys, Barry Rollings, Peer Knights and company, about six of them went to Crimmo’s place with the cup and celebrated out there. They all loved him really. Great to see that, nobody urged them, they just went. And I s’pose others like me, to go Sunday and he died Monday. Brian rang me to say he’d gone.


The way he hung on to life until our win, over the years since then I’ve met a couple of people who’ve told me about people who were motivated and inspired to eke out a few more days because of some terribly important thing. So, I would say it’s well within possibility at the time, that he did sort of want to live on naturally but this helped to give him a goal, I wouldn’t sort of set it aside and say – no, nothing to do with it, I think it’s got a lot to do with it.


By the time I got to coach North Melbourne I was still the same person, I couldn’t change much. The people there, John Miller, Johnny Dugdale and Schimma, and Keith Greig, Matty Larkin, great team. We got in the finals a couple of years, and I couldn’t ask for a better lot of people to deal with…


Five years, ’85-’89 I was there. ’89 we were sort of not doing too well. Bob was always saying he didn’t want to change, he wasn’t wanting to change, he let me make the pace. I thought in ’89 that we were just going fairly, I don’t think we had, we certainly didn’t have, not an excuse but, we didn’t have the players that we had at Hawthorn. I thought Schimma was… he was so loyal to support me, and Keith Greig the same. To make a long story short, I got out and I was quite happy to get out and let Schimma take over, I didn’t do it just off the top of my head. I asked Allen Aylett and Ron Barassi about Schimma as coach. They both said “He’d be great.” They both had one qualification, was a bit worried about communication with the players, and I thought – oh, well, I didn’t say this to them but, – that won’t worry me because I don’t communicate too well anyhow (laughs), my communication is not too good. So, he’ll be improving on that like Dave Parkin, so that was the reason I thought he’d go well.


Well, I ‘spose you’d have to say my judgment wasn’t all that good, it wouldn’t be the first time. Schimma would have his own views on what we needed to do and what should have been done.


I suppose you could say he was near the end of his career when I was coaching, and yet, we went down to Geelong, I said to him: “I want you to pick up Gary Ablett…” Gazza was half forward flank and Schimma was on him… Schimma had that great fighting spirit, he could really lift himself, he beat Ablett easily on the day. I’ve never forgotten that was Schimma, he was so good. He was an extraordinary talent. You wouldn’t say he’s a wonderful kick, or an extraordinary mark, he just had the ability to get the ball.


I think time moves on, and business has grown as it has in all the clubs. It’s good to see Hawthorn financially sound at this stage and it’s also, the realisation that you’ve just got to keep working in the football world, it’s the same, you can’t just sort of sit back. See, Melbourne for all their strength and power and influence, and everything, unless you have people running it… See, old Bob was right with the administration, it starts there. And at the present time, Hawthorn has got what it takes there, they’re constantly trying to improve, marketing and all that kind of thing. Everything’s marketable, you know… Triumph and tragedy, sadness, and joy – all marketable.


It’s so important that the President and the administrators do the right thing all the time; otherwise, you’re asking people to be loyal to something that’s not really good. So, that’s so important, that we can forget ourselves in the interests of this club, they’re representing us, and they’ve got to watch their steps and make sure that there’s no nonsense goes on there.


I don’t really miss playing, not to any great extent, because I wasn’t a good enough player (laughs).


As an ex-coach I find it difficult to watch my grandson play for the Swans because I’m watching thinking – where was Josh? Where’s Josh? He should have been here, oh, where’s Josh? It’s hopeless! I’d rather record it when I know the result, otherwise I’d go ratty watching it. So, I suppose to that extent, you never stop coaching.


I watch soccer and rugby, and everything, they’re all great, too, but Australian Rules has got the spectator excitement, the way it’s played, the potential to score is always there, gets you on the edge of your seat. Even now I can get really worked up watching it. You don’t get chocolates every week, boiled lollies some weeks, a dull game with nothing much happening but, at its best when they’re neck and neck, oh, the excitement is marvellous!


A greatest moment for me in footy was, I suppose, family-wise, was when my grandson Josh played his first game, and Alan Jeans and I were sitting there watching it. We enjoyed that.


Regrets? I suppose things pop up every now and then. People have asked me would I do anything differently, just in the football world, maybe in consideration now, as I said I mentioned to Ron, about Ron Barassi’s attention to detail that he had, I’d probably concentrate on all that, overall.


But I did enough. No real regrets.





This is an edited transcription of Matt Zurbo’s chat with John Kennedy Senior, some of which was included in his book Champions All published in 2016.


Stacked with stories from football personalities like this one from John Kennedy Senior, from Ron Barassi to Simon Black and plenty more besides, read more about the follow up book Heart & Soul on the Footy Almanac in pieces such as this posted HERE as well as more from Matt “Old Dog” Zurbo HERE.





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  1. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    What a privilege it must have been to have a few hours with the great man Old Dog.

  2. DBalassone says

    Magnificent MZ. 
    What an incredible insight into the great man. 
    This is a treasure chest, a book in it’s own right.

  3. Stephen Hodder says

    Insightful, perceptive, astute … The bloke being interviewed too.

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks all. There was a comment here about how Kanga got his nickname. Yes, it predated his stint at the Roos, right back to his playing days, but I can’t remember where it came from.

  5. DBalassone says

    Kanga. Was it the way he “hopped for joy” after the Hawks came from behind in the last quarter of the ’71 GF?

    I’m actually being serious. Check out the way Kanga jumps for joy after Don Scott’s dribbling goal at about 5:25 of this video. This image has stayed with me for years:


  6. Hayden Kelly says

    Old Dog
    Great to read that again . Fantastic stuff .

  7. Always great to read this

  8. Malby Dangles says

    A wonderful interview. I missed most of his coaching career, but his legend was embedded in popular culture by then anyways. I can only fathom what it would’ve been like to play under him.
    He seems so inspirational that you would have done anything for the man.

  9. Peter Fuller says

    John Kennedy’s “Kanga” nickname came from an English fictional sporting book The Champion Annual. It subsequently became the Tiger Annual and there was also a weekly publication. Roy Race of Melchester Rovers (Roy of the Rovers) was the most famous character in the Tiger Weeklies and Annuals. An early 1950’s Champion Annual included one of its short stories with the hero an Australian with the surname Kennedy who naturally carried the nickname (for the benefit of their mainly English schoolboy readership) Kanga. I’m guessing from an unreliable memory that the subject matter was cricket.
    An example of the Champion Annual has turned up on Ebay (I don’t know if this is the one which includes the Kanga Kennedy story)
    Btw, this is a marvellous extract from your magnum opus, Matt.

  10. Matt Zurbo says

    Thanks Peter! Epic. Thanks all.

    Malby, I would like to think so, too.

  11. Rick Kane says

    What a magnificent essay interview. The old man is the real deal. I don’t care if this is a cliche but they really don’t make them like that anymore. Gracious, humble, cheeky, considered, circumspect, respectful and sincere. Must have been a tough gig MZ having to fall under his spell as he weaved his philosophy and remembrances, his anecdotes and his tall tales and true. Terrific piece. One most definitely for the pool room. On top of all that, man can John Kennedy Snr. tell a story. They all hit me in the heart but this one in particular got me:

    “Very late in the last, one kick in it, the ball was kicked right down deep into the Melbourne forward line. Big Bob Johnson grabbed the ball from the air, brought it just so close… And it just dropped out. Jack Irving was umpire, it wasn’t quite a mark but, he could easily have paid it. He didn’t, and it was whisked away straight down the other end, where Morton Browne took the mark in the goal square. One, two, three grabs – He got it! And he put it through.”

    Great work Matt, Vale John Kennedy Snr

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