The (next) Great Man

Some friends of mine have spoken somewhat disparagingly of my inability to write anything for this website other than Geelong related prose. For those friends: stop reading now.
For this I will try to be short and sharp, and deliver it with the minimum of fuss. Much like the man it aims to pay tribute to.
But it will be hard.
As Cats’ supporters we have been spoiled in the past 8 years. So very spoiled.
We’ve seen a group of absolute club champions emerge together, and have seen them together showered in superlatives and accolades and silver confetti; after each and every success.
But it all started a long time ago. Well before the confetti and the good times.
1998 was a pretty shitty time at Geelong. That horrible man Gary Ayres was in the midst of systematically deconstructing our entire club on the field, and off the field we were the basket case cousin that everyone kind of liked but felt really sorry for.
Then this kid called Scarlett, son of Gunner, turned out in his first game (against some Essendon ponce called Lloyd).

His first game was quite late in that year. And then the next year he spent mostly playing ressies also (Good call, Garry).
When Mark Thompson arrived in 2000, the great coach Bomber (as he usually did) saw something in the Scarlett kid.
Matthew went on to play 20 odd games that year, and established himself as a pretty decent player.

By 2002 the Scarlett boy had played 50 odd games, and had started to show some impressive features. He’d come up against some of the best, and at times had showcased some of the features that would make him soon, in lots of people’s eyes, go down as one of the best full backs of all time.

There were moments back before the Cats were the Cats, when it was Scarlett who would singularly and simply refuse to lose.
His creativity off the full back line, leaving his man and setting up plays off half back, was something to behold.
He had the hair then too. They even made Scarlo wigs to sell down at the city end of KP. I bought one once, and even wore it on the train home.
Around the time of the monster draft of 1999 when Enright, Ling, Chapman and Corey arrived; it was perfect timing, as by that stage Scarlo and Sando and Harley had a nice little understanding, but they needed some help.
Then came the superdraft of 2001, with the arrival of Ablett, Bartel, Kelly and Johnson et al.
All of a sudden, in a few short years, Scarlo had the authority and support to demand more for the team he was obviously spiritually leading.
Scarlett in 2007 was amazing. He was like a full back and a half back flanker and a midfielder all in one.
And he’s kind of done that ever since.
In 2007, after the 2006 balls up, he was that man that demanded more from all those kids.
And they listened. From 2007 – 2009 he was barely beaten. All Australian all three years.
No one will ever forget the toe poke to Ablett in the last minutes of the 09 Grand Final. “No, we’re not going to lose this”.

But I’ll also remember the perfect game (30 touches, 12 marks for and 0 goals against) on Gherig that day at KP, or the guy marshaling the entire back-line for almost his entire career, or him setting up and demanding more from his entire young side, when they knew no better way. Willing them to follow him. And follow him they did. Always.

I was talking the other week with another tragic Geelong man like myself, and very sincerely we both agreed that when Matthew announces his retirement in a few weeks – which he will – we will be sadder on that day than at any other point saying goodbye to a Geelong player since the Great Man.
That’s how highly he is rated at Geelong.
To us – and we are too young to have seen Polly play of course – Scarlo is easily the second best, and easily the most important, Geelong player we’ve ever seen.

I’ll list his achievements after this piece, but those achievements belie what the man is about.

The stories of Scarlo putting on a BBQ at his house prior to the 09 finals just to get the lads together; Scarlo turning up to Mad Monday as KB/Dermie/Hector; Scarlo as a 19 year old confronting and running Justin Murphy out of town; Scarlo telling the footy club that if Bomber was dumped and Creswell was in then he was out the door…Scarlo and the toe poke…

He will be missed more than any other at Geelong. The absolute heart and soul of our great club.

I hope that in some fairytale world the Cats can win the flag this year, just so Scarlo can go out on a high like his great mates Harley, Ling, Otto and Maxy (and even Dasher and Moons, though they didn’t play on the day).

But if the Cats cant get there this year, Scarlo will still have three of those flags to his name. Not to mention all the other stuff.
And all three of those flags, and all the years leading up to them, will be intrinsically and totally connected to the presence of Matthew Scarlett in the back half, in the team, in the club, and in the town itself.

Bring on the next Scarlett, in 2018.

Matthew Scarlett

  • AFL Premiership (Geelong): 2007, 2009, 2011
  • AFL NAB Cup Premiers (Geelong): 2006 (captain), 2009
  • All-Australian: 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011
  •  International Rules: 2002, 2003
  • Carji Greeves Medal: 2003
  • Geelong F.C. Hall of Fame: 2006
  • Geelong F.C. Coach’s award: 2002
  • Geelong Football Club Life Member (2006)
  • AFL Hall of Fame: TBC

About Tim McBain

A long tortured but now proud Geelong man. Product of the 70's. Likes late nights, country music, Test Cricket, red wine, Woody Allen films, airports and mushroom risotto. Lives in Melbourne.


  1. Neil Belford says

    Scarlett is not retiring – he is moving on to a new phase. He going to play for another team in another competition. The club he played juniors at. He is a footballers footballer.

  2. Fantastic article about the best full back to have played @ the highest level. That says it all.


  3. Andrew Starkie says

    Glen, David Dench?

  4. Love it Tim

  5. Mark Doyle says

    A great Geelong player, but please fellas, no heroworship or player ratings.

    One of my favourite memories of Matty Scarlett is his response at his first All-Australian award function about ten years ago: mumbling through closed teeth, he said ‘I just wanna play finals footy”.

  6. 11 out of 10 for my absolute idol, Scarlo.

    AS, does Dench make the top 5 of full backs?

  7. Dench was a fabulous full back but did he have his own brand of wig?
    Wore one (a wig) on the train home from a game too, Tim. Love will do strange things…

  8. Hi Andrew, David Dench was fantastic, ditto Kelvin Moore, and Geooff Southby, pre 1973 GF, but to me Scarlett has stood the test of time, peforming at an elite level for a long, long period.


  9. Well, it became official today. And sadly we couldnt send the great man off with that one last flag. Thank you oh so very much Scarlo, for a million memories; some I never thought I’d ever get to see. Dont be a stranger.

Leave a Comment