Hooked: the story of a country boy’s first-ever game

The footy is back! This has got me thinking about the first game I ever went to. Let me take you on a ride back to the SCG in 1987 for the Round 16 clash between the Swans and Eagles….

As an impressionable 9 year old I was drawn to the SCG from Wagga Wagga on the premise of watching my brother Brett play in the little league. I don’t remember much of his 2 handballs but I remember a lot of the 8 goals Stephen Wright kicked and the 201 to 71 hiding the Swans gave the Eagles.

My brother was a confident little 11 year old, as he jumped on the team bus out front of the railway station with Wagga’s finest 11 year old footballers, Jason Wild the ex Collingwood player the pick of the bunch. Brett’s last words were a prediction of 4 goals from his right boot. Long story short the coach put him in the back pocket, he had two handballs and developed a lifelong disdain for the coach.

We jumped in the Commodore Wagon, equipped with a new radar detector (that Dad assured us was cutting edge and worth the $40 he spent on it) while it was still dark and headed off to the big smoke.

One by one we ticked off the towns and it was CCR all the way on the cassette player and the advanced 4 windows down air conditioning system was in full force.

Going anywhere further than Junee was a big adventure for a 9 year old. I had no idea what to expect. Was the SCG going to be bigger than Robertson Oval? Why was Dad more interested in the Swanettes than Mum? Were the hotdogs bigger at the SCG than at Tolland primary school? My head was spinning!

I looked up to Brett and all the big kids on the bus, they looked like Giants to me and were my role models of the day.

Dad tried to impart some wisdom to what was about to occur. By stepping onto the SCG Brett would be walking on the same turf as Bradman. Shit! That was enough to stop me in my tracks.

A rest stop at Goulburn was next on the list. The Big Merino was a curious sight. I just couldn’t get my head around why someone had built a bloody big sheep and even more so by the fact that people were flocking to it. Subsequent trips in later years to the big Potato and Bannana have not helped. A couple of Vegimite Sangas and a Sunnyboy and we are on our way.

In a flash it seems we are in Sydney. The map is flying in all directions in the car and Dad is sweating bullets. It seems the traffic in George Street is a tad busier than Baylis street. Who knew a city could have more than 10 sets of traffic lights?

I’m getting nervous. I’m in the big smoke. The town I see on the telly. We find our hotel in the CBD and pull in. A simple room with a coin operated vibrating machine for the beds. Wow that is hours of fun for a 9 year old with no grasp on the devices intended function. I turn the telly on and am in shock that you get more than 2 channels. What the hell is Channel 10? Us country folk would get a staple diet of ABC and a mixed channel with a bit of everything. Essentially A Country Practice played on a 12 hour loop.

We jump in a cab and I can see the light towers soon enough. They are the biggest thing I have seen in my life. Out of the cab and into the ticket queues. There are more people milled outside the ground than live in all of Wagga I think. Wow, you can buy flags and hats outside the ground.. What on earth can you get in the ground? I felt like I was about to enter the Colosseum.

We take our seats in the Brewongle stand. I quickly establish that I don’t like heights. I stuff my face with an assortment of chips, mixed lollies and Tab (bloody Dad saw the red can and throught it was coke).

Out run the players. Shit they look big. My favourite player was Paul Hawke. A Wagga boy and a fine footballer. Like every kid of the day I practised trying to take hangers like the Wizard so was keen to see if he could stand on someones head today.

This was a golden period for the Swannies.. Healy, Williams, Wright, Carter, Bayes, Carroll to name a few.

The first quarter is pretty tight as goals are traded. It is one kick out of the centre and you are in the action. A glorious sunny day and flooding is a term nobody has heard of. Pretty much you play on one bloke all day and try and beat him. Simple. Blissful.

The Swans explode in the second. Williams and Healy are putting on a clinic out of the square and Capper is flying for everything. Wright is picking up crumbs like somebody who hasn’t eaten for 3 days and bags several. The Eagles look slow and only Mainwaring has much of an impact.

Half time – bring on the big show. The little league boys run out and play down the centre strip of the ground. The Wagga boys are playing some mob from North Sydney. Luckily Wagga won the toss so got to wear the Swans Colours. As with most kids games 80% of the players follow the ball trying to get a touch and the game resembles a mixture of Rugby Union and British Bulldog. I can’t remember much except for Brett displaying a body language performance that Richo would have been proud of.

The Game finishes and the little tackers disappear. We wait in the grandstand and Brett comes and joins us midway through the third quarter still buzzing from the experience. He had walked where legends do.

The second half is a football clinic. Every goal is followed by a bizzare little song with the catchphrase ‘show em Sydney’. It loses effect after being played over 30 times.

The football is fast and direct. It is sad that people now remember Capper as a village idiot. The guy could play. The Swans seem to have a team of midfielders. All good movers in heavy traffic. Rod Carter is getting bored at the back. Johnny Gastev provides some spark for the Eagles but his opportunities are few and far between.

At the end of the carnage it is Sydney 30.21.201 defeating West Coast 10.11.71

What an introduction to football. The speed. The aggression. The Junk food. This game has it all.

I’ve been up since 5am. I,m buggered. The Dodson’s stream out of the SCG in search of a cab and I am still hooked 26 years down the track.

About craig dodson

Born in the sporting mecca that is Wagga Wagga and now reside in Melbourne with my lovelly wife Sophie and son's Jack and Harry. Passionate Swans supporter and formally played cricket at a decent level and Aussie Rules at a not so decent level! Spend my days now perfecting my slice on the golf course and the owner of the worlds worst second serve on the tennis course.


  1. So seven goals to Stevie Wright one of the old South Melbourne players, Craig, do you recall much about Warwick Capper’s tally that afternoon? If my memory serves me correctly, this victory was one of a pair of consecutive 100+ point victories to Sydney, the other being over Essendon.


  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Loved it Craig you took us back and along with you on the ride to the adventure . I totally agree with you re tab only good thing about it was the famous tab add with
    Elle Mc Pherson ( could some 1 better than me find it and put the link )
    Capper was a seriously good player it was only his idiotic behavior since and making a wrong decision in going to , Brisbane that has stopped him being regarded higher in the footy pecking order . Thanks Craig

  3. craig dodson says

    Glen I think Capper kicked 5 and your spot on, they did crack the double ton against Essendon that season as well. Got punted out of the finals quickly though.
    Certainly still remember the tab ad Malcolm!

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says


    Will this lead to a Pini v McPherson showdown ?

  5. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Thanks Swish yes it is a hard vote , Elle for me

  6. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Craig, presumably you had the following day (Monday) off school as well.

    How often did you make this trip, given that most of Sydney’s home games in the 80’s were Sunday afternoons ?

  7. craig dodson says

    It was school holidays from memory i think Mark. At that stage it was usually just one trip a year, kids footy was always on a Sunday as well so it was usually during a bye or something.

  8. Rocket Nguyen says

    Brings back some wonderful memories. I was at the game myself.

    The Swans had a run of 3 games at the time where they beat each opponent by over 100 points at the SCG, firstly, Essendon, then the Eagles, and thirdly, Richmond, I think. Alas, they peaked too early and bowed out of the finals in straight sets.

    When the Brisbane Bears recruited the Whizz they should have taken Stevie Wright in a package deal. A fellow Oakleigh Districts player, Stevie knew how to keep Warrick focused – and to snare a few goals himself.

    The Fox, aka Paul Hawke, was a wonderfully gifted player, and in my view under-rated. Only an injury in the last round in 1989 prevented him from winning the Copeland Trophy at Collingwood.
    Got Tatura a long-awaited flag in the Goulburn Valley League. They’re building a statue of him in Hogan St. Last time heard from him he was still living in Tat and going ok on the punt.

  9. craig dodson says

    Small world rocket! I’m pretty sure Hawke came 4th in the brownlow in 89. not sure we will ever see the swans crack the double ton again

  10. Rocket Nguyen says

    You’re spot on Craig.

    Paul Hawke finished equal 4th in Brownlow with 14 votes!
    Hard to believe that he couldn’t get a berth in the Pies premiership team the next season. But then again training was not his strong point. Hence his nickname at the Swans, The Fox.

    With Buddy and Tippett up forward the Swans could boot some big scores at the SCG this season. Sam Reid expected to play at CHB.

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