Simon Black and the things that count

There’s something about Simon Black, the man. He’s just a ripper bloke. Genuine, friendly. Yet he played so hard. The grit with which he attacked packs was, in my time viewing the game, second to none. He got the ball.

Everyone knew he was going to get the ball. They crashed and smashed and tried to snuff him out. But he got it. Where as Nathan Buckley was a champion receiver, Simon was a champion getter.

Mick Martyn knew it. Black always got three votes playing against North, then, come the 1999 Preliminary Final, within ten minutes Simon had a broken skull, and North went on to win the game, and the Premiership a week later.

Yet Simon went to the tribunal and got Mick off. Denis Pagan rang him that week to offer his thanks.

To sit across from the bloke in a hotel foyer, an hour after the interview stopped, talking football is as good as it gets. We discussed the finer points of hunger and honesty. The extra yards. Motivation. The things footy’s about.

He told me one of the biggest problems in Brisbane at the moment is how young their list is. They stay with a team for a half, then can’t stop the run when it starts to go south.

“Bigger bodies, experience,” words like that were thrown about.

I wish I’d told him one of the best footy stories I’ve got:

It was minor country reserves, as far from the coaching, teams, interstate travel and class of AFL as it gets. The ball was heavy, there was constant drizzle and mud. We were losing by about 18 goals. It was my second game back from years at another club, before I’d refound my spot in the Ones.

I was in the ruck when the ball sailed over the head of our CHB yet again, for a point. The goal umpire went to raise two fingers. The CHB, seeing this, protested.
“Wait! Wait! It was a bloody point!”

The goal umpire, wet, miserable, sick of the score-line, moaned: “Eh, who fucking cares?” and paid the full six points.

The CHB was ropable. I assumed, in the moment, full of misplaced aggression. Losing by 20 goals, blame the umpire. But he shouted at the bloke in white:

“I fucking care! If we’re losing by 200 I’ll do every damn thing I can to not lose by 201! Each point is a knife in the back!”

It gave me a whole new view of him, and football. I watched the CHB for the rest of the year. Just handy, no real skills, old and past his best. But each game he would give everything from first to last. We lost every match, yet he played as though the scores were always level. As best as a hack could.

You find your heroes in the strangest places.
He was our best player yet didn’t seem to pole votes and didn’t seem to care if he did. I asked him how he keeps his fire when the team has none?

“I reload,” he told me. “If I’m being beaten every five minutes I tell myself: Reload.”

He watched me obviously not quite getting it.
“And I attack the next contest with the confidence and fitness and hardness of the first few minutes of the match.”

It really made me think. If a hack like that can have such purpose and drive, anyone can. I tried it the next year. It didn’t really work for me, but I don’t think that was the point. He had something, he worked at it. That trigger that made him give everything no matter what the score. Character.

And I set out finding my thing to suit.

Years later, I was playing in Tassie. Pre-season I had a run with another team, just to get some extra legs on our weekend off. I was asked to say something after the match. I told them that winning is an attitude. Something that comes from within. That this team, as unsuccessful as my last team, was obvious to me.
“No team stays on the bottom forever. But when your team finally pushes to the top I bet I know who will be in it. The players who practised the things that count. Desire. Want. Work ethic. Who trained themselves to push through no matter what the scores. Who self-motivated when the result indicated no reason to. Who ran out matches even after the game got away. Who didn’t need appreciation to give their best.

“One day, your team’s time will come. But, for you, as individuals, it starts now. In the games you cannot win. In the way you keep running, in the way you defy your body’s desire to say ‘Fuck it, next week’. In the way you fight for every damn point as if the scores are tied, even if you’re losing by 200 of them.

“When we’re losing, my legs turn to led, there’s no two ways about it. I stop pushing to distant contests. I stop running off. The hardest thing to do on a football field is to turn your game around. But that’s exactly what the great players do. At any level. They reload. They show character. They go again.

“And again.

“Then, when a period of success for the team comes along, and new players hop on boards, they’re ready for it. They don’t get squeezed out, they don’t get left behind. All that work, all those losses aren’t for nothing.

“Practice the things that count. Every training, every game, every contest, every point, reload.”

Then we all got really drunk.


I remember that CHB well, and wonder where he is these days, and wonder how Simon Black is going to go about turning his team around? Stopping the blow-outs? I’m sure he, and the Brisbane panel will get there. He has character, pride. These things shine through, even when not kicking a football anymore.
The stuff that counts. Always. Every time.


  1. Callum O'Connor says

    Black was one of my favourite opposition players… absolute Rolls Royce.

  2. Simon Black became my favourite player when I watched a pre-season intra-club game at their Coorparoo training track. He was the one always under the pack when it unravelled. And there were some hard nuts on the opposition. Craig Lambert and Voss for example. But Blackie was the one who made the others better around him in that game and ever since.

    So glad he was kept on post retirement. Even though, this season at least there is no new Black…

  3. Was talking to the Collingwood supporting mum of one of our U10s. Mentioned that my eldest was named after Simon Black when he wwas born 3 days after the GF he won the Norm Smith in. She said “Never liked him, dirty player”. I couldn’t for the life of me remember a single incident he was involved in. Anyone????

  4. Gus, yeah, the truly great players are ones who make their teammates better.

    Simon, to my knowledge was a fair as they get. Just put it down to “Collingwood supporter syndrome.” Haha

  5. Simon Black used to win my special stat every week. Who hands the ball back to the ump at a stoppage. I started to count this when I used to watch Leigh Matthews back in the 70s and 80s. Matthews wast he only player to match Black in this regard
    These are the blokes who ‘get their hands on the ball’.
    If you watch the 2003 Grand final Black hands the ball back to the umpire all the time. He got about 40 possessions that day but I was more impressed with the derrinalphil special stat count.

  6. Fancy calling Buckley a receiver,do you watch the game?

  7. Phil, what an absolute ripper observation, mate! I will rewatch that GF.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great article I enjoyed the principle , work ethic aspect of the article the most , don’t get me wrong , Simon Black was a fantastic player and harsh but fair re Buckley but it is the old CHB bloke who is the moral of the story

Leave a Comment