The Cult Heroes

After Kyle Hardingham’s first game for Essendon in Round 17, Dan Silkstone of The Age was so impressed that he proclaimed that “the Bomber faithful had a new cult hero”. A couple of exciting hangers and four majors was just the debut that Essendon fans would have been hoping for from Hardingham. But was it enough for “cult hero” determination?

Whilst the term “cult hero” is not thrown around as injudiciously as “champion” tends to be in corners of the media, it does seem to be one that is very much open to interpretation and accordingly some over zealous misapplication.

Silkstone is not Robinson Crusoe as far as premature adjudication of cult hero status is concerned. A quick look at the North Melbourne website would suggest that there is not a requirement to even play a game to become a cult hero. Such has been the impact of rookie-listed Majak Daw down at Arden Street, that the webmaster asserts that “Daw has already become a cult figure at the Kangaroos”. Is he more in the mould of a Wayne Carey or a Crackers Keenan I wonder? Way too early to call. North did appear to have more than its fair share of cult heroes in the 70s, 80s and 90s. Add Mick Nolan, Gary Cowton, Brent Croswell, Malcolm Blight, Micky Martyn and Glenn Archer to the list, and it is fair to say that young Majak is in pretty fair company.

The “sticking to our structures” and “protecting our brand” approach to Footy Inc. these days seems to make cult heroes much less prevalent than they were back in the day. In saying that, the recent ascent of James (JPod) Podsiadly and (Jumping) Jack Riewoldt has seen them take up the mantle as cult heroes early in their careers.

This brings me to another observation regarding cult heroes. Most of them have nicknames that stick; enhancing their “cult heroness”. Crackers, The Galloping Gasometer, and Crazy Horse have already been mentioned above. Add to that the likes of  Jezza, The Buzz, The Kid, The Flying Dutchman, Plugger, Captain Blood, Mr Football, Superboot, The Macedonian Marvel, and The Whale and you’ve got to think that “Team Hardingham” really should be workshopping appropriate nicknames to help fast-track his cult hero status at Windy Hill.

Something rather peculiar about being proclaimed a cult hero is that it can happen for a variety of reasons. A very long kick from half-back (Val Perovic). A penchant for ridiculous antics (Mark Jacko Jackson). A highlights reel of speccy marks (Tony Modra, Warwick Capper …. by no means forgetting the role of the tight shorts). A freakish ability to do the unexpected (Peter Daicos). As a result, the same club can have cult heroes of an entirely different ilk bob up, e.g. Bernie Quinlan versus Doc Wheildon, Wayne Weidermann versus Tony Modra, etc.

So who are our modern day cult heroes of the AFL? A case could be made for Lance “Buddy” Franklin, Quinten “The Big Q” Lynch, Simon “The Chief” Wiggins, and Dale “Daisy” Thomas to add to JPod and Jumping Jack – all having the prerequisite cult-hero-like nicknames. But in all honesty, the list does pull up a bit short compared to those of previous eras.

What is one footy follower’s “cult hero” is another’s “much-maligned”. With that in mind, it is with significant trepidation that I present a list of cult heroes of the past – one from each club.

Adelaide: Tony Modra

Brisbane: Jason Akermanis

Carlton: Vin Catoggio

Collingwood: Peter Daicos

Essendon: Ronnie Andrews

Fitzroy: Bernie Quinlan

Fremantle: Clive Waterhouse

Geelong: Gary Ablett Snr

Hawthorn: Robert Dipierdomenico

Melbourne: Mark Jackson

North Melbourne: Wayne Carey

Port Adelaide: Stuart Dew

Richmond: Francis Bourke

StKilda: Fraser Gehrig

Sydney: Tony Lockett

West Coast: John Gastev

Western Bulldogs: Doug Hawkins

That is all

About Arma

Much-maligned footy banterer


  1. John Butler says

    Great stuff Arma

    I reckon Luke “Rhino” O’Sullivan fits the bill. Took forever to play 50 games, and when he did it was celebrated more than most blokes 200th.

    One question though? What’s separates a cult hero from a regular run of the mill hero?

  2. Very nice article.

    The ‘original ‘Jumpin’ Jack’ played at CHB for the Cats in the seventies and early eighties.

    Was also thinking that The Suns have their own version of J-Pod, but I’m not too sure ‘the K-Hunt’ is going to be widely adopted.

    Which brings me to Brad Dick. I’m sure commentators keep a very tight rein on the words they use whenever he finds the gap and splits the middle, as he so often does. Surely he’s a cult figure at the Pies.

    Boris and Smithy are conservative cult heroes at the Cats. ‘Boris’ got his nickname because there was already a (Joel) Corey, and ‘Smithy’ was assigned to Joel Corey because he had two first names.

  3. Thanks very much John & Pete.

    #1 Yes, good question John. In my opinion (only), it tends to be something very “out of the ordinary” that provides the “cult” status – perhaps eccentricity, unusually gifted, not being footy PC, etc. By way of example, I imagine that “Hirdy” and “Lloydy” would fit well with being club heroes (particularly to youngsters), but are unlikely to have had cult hero status. But you are right, there are the vagaries that can never be clearly defined with the whole concept.

    #2 If my memory serves me correctly Pete, Jumpin’ Jack Hawkins would have had cult hero status also. And as for the Brad Dick & K-Hunt business, do you think that there is a need for a Graham Kennedy style footy commentator?

    That is all

  4. Stephen George says

    Good article Anna.

    I recon Mark ‘The Fridge’ Roberts and Matthew ‘Spider’ Burton were cult heroes at North

  5. #4 Anna? Ouch. Yes, good call Stephen – another couple from North.
    They of the shinboner spirit may be more of the style that leads to a cult following.

  6. David Downer says

    Outstanding Arma, and a great topic.

    Some from Moorabbin way circa last couple of decades, for various reasons and to various degrees of cult-ishness …a trio of Jason’s to begin:

    Jayson Daniels – awkward ginger meggs unit with questionable disposable
    Jason Heatley – the suburban one-year-wonder FF
    Jason Cripps – perennial nuggety hamstring victim in the “great clubman” mould
    Jamie Shanahan – pre ’97 GF at least, never snagged a major, hit the post once I can remember

    A bit further back…
    Robbie Muir – er, well documented
    Rocket Rod Owen – a wild “coulda been anything” type

    Further back again …and based predominantly on their actual name…
    Mordi Bromberg, Milan Faletic, Enrico Misso.

    And at the lunch the other day, when Tony De Bolfo finished reading out the Italian Team of The Century, there came a cry…
    “What about Vin Cattogio??”


  7. Stephen George says

    My sincere apologies Arma – I blame the PC at work

    And I noticed I can’t even spell ‘reckon’

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    Some Collingwood examples of cult heroes:

    Graeme “Jerka” Jenkin
    Ronnie Wearmouth
    James Manson (especially the day he marked in-range and then went down seriously injured only to recover after the kick was taken by a teammate)
    Ricky Barham (certainly in the eyes of my female cousin)
    Dennis Banks (for his sense of fair play – and his hit on Rhys Jones)
    and… Darren Millane

  9. John Butler says


    Considering your list, I think there’s grounds for claiming the Saints as the spiritual home of the cult hero.

    Arma, your definition is as good as anything I can come up with. Hird & Lloyd are definitely club heroes, not cult heroes. Too squeaky clean (despite the velvet sledgies’ late career lunge at being enforcer).

  10. The obvious cult hero for the Tigers is Richo. A couple of new recruits have obtained a cult status in their first season at the club – in particular Relton Roberts (and to a lesser extent Ben Nason)

  11. I’d been under the impression that “cult hero” refers to someone non-mainstream. With that in mind, I’m not sure that I’d call Gary the Original a cult hero. However, I am very open to suggestion, and like your definition in comment #3. For his freakish, superhuman, untrained and unbridled ability, Gazza was certainly a cult hero.

    Under that defintion, we’d have to include Stevie J also. After all, nothing says “Freak” like “Steve Johnson” (works on so many levels).

    Tomahawk received cult hero status after two games, but most have jumped off that bandwagon.

    Little Stokesy was dubbed “Geelong’s newest cult hero” (or something to that extent) by commentators following a stellar fourth quarter against Port in 2006. Won us the game, couldn’t do a thing wrong, was given a standing ovation going off the ground. Little late to the party, people. As if it wasn’t obvious he was a star following his first preseason game :P

    Blakey is a cult hero in the truest, most traditional sense. No one would really name him in their favourite players, but my golly goodness, doesn’t the roof lift when he gets that rare goal? His game against Brisbane – the wrestle with Fev, the tackles, the shepherds – had the crowd cheering for him like he was their golden child again.

  12. I’d like to make a case for Glenn Archer, I think he was North Melbourne’s cult hero. Wayne Carey was more North’s actual hero. But great article.

    Nowadays, I would point the finger at the likes of Scott McMahon and Jack Ziebell as cult heroes.

  13. Peter Flynn says

    Max Rooke?

  14. Damian Watson says

    Nice work Arma,

    Val Perovic may have been a cult hero amongst the Carlton contingent as well.

    I remember when Clive Waterhouse booted 7 goals I believe, in the ‘Demolition Derby’ of 2000 that had the Subiaco grandstands rocking.

  15. Peter Flynn says

    Doc Wheildon?

  16. … Spiro Malakellis? :P


  17. Peter Flynn says

    Fatui Ataata

    Very funny Susie. When I was a teenager, Steve Reynoldson was the “cult-hero” of the teenage girls. Every duffle coat had a Reynoldson badge or six.

  18. Richard Naco says

    As much as Arma (with his reference to the Living Fable, J-Pod) & Scintillating Susie (with her cast of thousands) are both pretty much spot on, the true contemporary Cat Cult Hero is (round of applause for Comrade Flynn) Max Rooke.

    I think you just need to listen again to Bomber’s recent press conference where he discussed how much Max means to the playing group at Kardinia Park (while explaining why the club has spent so much in treating his two major injuries), then check out the inherent passion that underpin the numerous Max Rooke threads on the Geelong forum at Big Footy (see ) to gain an insight.

    No nickname has really stuck, and he appears to be a bit of an invisible enigma to those outside of the Cattery Coterie, but the news of his imminent return has basically lifted the morale of the hooped heroes massively. He is the talisman for all elements associated with our club. For all of the wondrous sentiment stirred by the rise of Pods (and rightly so), it is The Return of Rooke that will truly light the all consuming fire in the belly of Cats’ fans, staff & the playing core itself.

  19. Anthony from Chippendale says


    Great topic. As a student of Brisbane Bears history a number of cult heroes come to mind.

    – Christopher Skase
    – Jimmy Edmond’s elbow
    – The “Cop That” scoreboard
    – The jumper design


  20. John Butler says

    There’s an interesting sociological point here. In this age of twitter/facebook/myspace/cable TV/etc, at what point does the cult become the mainstream? When do they merge? How representative is the mainstream of the mainstream any more?

    To follow this thought, perhaps the cult of Harms & Daffy can’t be far off? Or has it already formed?

  21. My cult hero as a young boy was Gary Malarkey. What a legend!

  22. Thanks to everyone for their interest in the piece. My (somewhat risky) tactic in developing a possible list was purely to get a bit of a conversation started – it has certainly done that. Obviously there are no right or wrong answers – very much in the eye of the beholder.

    It’s hard for me to know where to start on responding to the comments, so I’ll just make some general observations:
    * Very Geelong-centric feedback. Note to self: If you want an article to get a good review make sure that there’s plenty of gratuitous references to “how good the Cats are”, “how talented their midfield is”, etc, etc
    * The reference to James Manson by AF points to something that I neglected in the piece. I did mean to mention that special cult hero status should be awarded to those who have managed to be cult heroes at more than club – Crackers Keenan (Melb, NM, Ess), James Manson (Coll, Fitz), Capper (Syd, Bris), etc – possibly plenty of others.
    * Adam makes the point that Richo is the obvious cult hero down at Tigerland. Very true. But as Richo featured in my “The Much Maligned” topic, I didn’t want to be like the Richmond team of the last couple of decades and be accused of being “too Richo focused”.
    * Anthony from Chippendale – good point. I will need to give special consideration to the Bears in future articles.

    Thanks to all – good stuff!

  23. Andrew Fithall says

    JB (#20). He will be too polite to point it out himself. Probably been putting up with it for his entire life. You did well to ensure there was no e in Harms. There is one in Daffey.

    On your main point – “when does the cult become the maintream?”, a friend pointed out that Little Red had been heard on Triple M and asked whether that meant I no longer liked them. One of my children also likes Washington and says that they are becoming really popular. I will stick with them (her) for now. Richo was cult because he couldn’t kick straight. He became more popular because eventually he was the only one who could kick goals.

    Arma (may I call you Anna?) – nice Geelong supporter back-handed sledge. Give it to that smug lot.

  24. Susie, went to school with Spiro Malakellis. Very amusing little fellow. He hurt his shoulder once in a typical Plugger tackle and missed the next week. He was being intereviewed on K-Rock and the late Teddy Whitten asked him if it was a problem shoulder. He replied indignantly, “You’d have a problem shoulder too if Tony Lockett drove you into the ground.”

    Can’t believe no one has mentioned Scratcher Neal. Cult hero extraodinaire.

    As a Cats supporter I was blessed to watch Gazza Senior every week, but Spud Frawley, Micky Martyn, Micky ‘The Glove’ Gayfer and Whoosher Worsfold were 4 blokes we loved to hate.

  25. Dave Latham says

    Billy Picken’s self-congratulary commentary during games puts him high on the list. “Here comes Billy.”

    Ronny Wearmouth certainly impressed me as a young boy. Liked Jarrod Malloy too for popping his fingers back into their sockets with utmost nonchalance.

    Leroy Brown is one now. Anyone who has the physique of a labrador and is best 22 is an auto inclusion.

  26. Scott Elliott says

    Hi to everyone

    Love the website and topics of discussion put forward. In relation to this one, a few players i think who could be considered cult heroes include-

    Stewie Gull (Swans)- for being able to square up to Ronnie Andrews
    Leon Baker (Bombers)- last quarter 84 grand final
    John Mossop (Cats/Roos)
    Mark Bayes (Swans)- ever reliable and loyal
    Derek Kickett (Roos/Bombers/Swans)- just mercurial
    Phil Narkle (Saints)- loved the stackhat helmet he used to wear !
    Matty Larkin (Roos)
    Bill Barrot (Tigers)
    Robbie McGhie (Doggies/Tigers/Swans)
    Brent Croswell
    Ray Biffin

    I’m sure there are many others I could add as well !!

  27. Pamela Sherpa says

    Agree with above comments. The Cult heroes of yesteryear seemed to have a rough edge about them as opposed to the club heroes mentioned, Their individual flair, toughness, unpredictability and dare to be different approach often made them favourites with fans. Rotten Ronnie certainly was abeauty. I loved ‘Silly Billy’ Duckworth too.
    Slammin’Sam Kekovich at North another one that comes to mind.
    It;s sad the the bland processed game of today squashes individual fair to some extent – A good coach should know how to harness it within a team.

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