The Pollie XVIII – when politics and sport do mix

As the world’s longest election campaign stumbles through the third week of 80, someone finally got a footy out. Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, was filmed playing in a riverbed somewhere:

Stories of his competence were sufficiently well founded, he demonstrates the skills. Not surprising then that it turns out he played for Oakleigh and Coburg as a younger man.

Now, I’m no politico, but if I was advising Di Natale he would have a Sherrin in hand whenever he is south of the Barassi line… maybe a Burley in SA. For a party that is so regularly demonised as being extreme and out of touch with mainstream Australia (for their crazy policies like marriage equality and that climate change is concerning, no doubt) footy is a perfect connecting point for Di Natale.

The great thing about footy is it crosses the political divides. You can converse with someone with whom you otherwise share no common ground because you share a footy team. In fact you don’t even need to share a footy team, you can just share footy. It humanises for the most part.

From that perspective it’s not so surprising that some have crossed the bridge from the football ground to the parliament floor, or at least tried. Di Natale is not the first and is unlikely to be the last. Even if your political career lasts as long as Mal Meninga’s. Let’s see if we can find a team’s worth, we’re two short at the moment with room for an interchange bench.


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Richard Di Natale

Football career – played for Oakleigh and Coburg in the VFA for six seasons in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Position – unknown

Political career – failed campaigns for Senate in 2004 and 2007. Failed campaign for Lord Mayor of Melbourne in 2004. Successful campaign for Senate in 2010. Became leader of the Greens in 2015. Currently holds position.


Gil Langley

Football career – played for Sturt in the SANFL from 1939-1950, playing 163 games and kicking 341 goals. Club captain in 1945 and 1947. Best and Fairest award in 1945 and 1946. Premiership player in 1940. 11 games for South Australia and also played four games for Essendon in 1943 during war service, including the losing 1943 VFL Grand Final. Position – rover

Political career – represented the Labor Party in the seat of Unley, entering SA parliament in 1962. Speaker of the House of Assembly 1977-1979, retired from politics in 1982. Not so keen on Don Dunstan’s social progressiveness which is probably why he made him Speaker.

Also, known to be quite good behind the stumps.


Justin Madden

Football career – played for Essendon and Carlton in the V/AFL from 1980-1996 racking up 332 games including the 1987 and 1995 premierships, the 1985 and 1991 John Nicholls Medal and All Australian selection in 1995. Position – ruckman

Political career – represented the Labor Party in the Victorian Legislative Council as member for Doutta Galla Province and later Western Metropolitan Region from 1999 to 2010. Then the Legislative Assembly as the member for Essendon from 2010 to 2014. Held numerous portfolios during his time in parliament including Minister for Sport and Minister for Planning. Latter position did not end well.


Stephen Patterson

Football career – played 86 games and kicked 116 goals for Norwood in the SANFL from 1991-1994 and 2002. Norwood Best and Fairest in 1993 and played in a losing Grand Final that year. 96 games in some other league for a team called Collingwood from 1995-2000. Won 1998 Anzac Medal but more importantly was the first player to kick a goal against Port Power. Position – rover, half forward flank, wing

Political career – current Mayor of Holdfast Bay in Adelaide.


Scott Turner

Football career – played 144 games for Richmond from 1991-1999. Position – defender

Political career – unsuccessfully ran for the Nationals for the seat of Ripon in the 2014 Victorian State Election. Came third with 18.3% of the vote but helped Liberal Louise Staley to win the seat by 601 votes.


Doug Nicholls

Football career – played reserves football for Carlton in 1927 before becoming a premiership player for Northcote in the VFA. Played 54 games for Fitzroy from 1932-1937 and represented Victoria in 1935. This description does not do the importance of his football career justice. Position – wing

Political career – not a politician as such but was Governor of South Australia from 1976-1977 before ill health forced him to step down from the role. Who am I to deny him a position on the team, particularly this weekend. Always welcome on my team, Sir Doug.


Phil Cleary

Football career – played 205 games for Coburg in the VFA from 1975-1987, coaching the club from 1984-1992. Position – (help, please, Victorians of an appropriate vintage)

Political career – won the Wills by-election in 1992 as an independent candidate taking over the seat from some bloke called Bob Hawke. However, the High Court declared his election void as he was employed by the Crown at the time. He stood again in the 1993 general election and won again. Lost seat in the 1996 election following a redistribution. Unsuccessfully ran for Victorian parliament in 2010 and 2014.


Nigel Smart

Football career – Played 278 games for Adelaide Crows from 1991-2004. Played in the 1997 and 1998 premierships and was All Australian on three occasions. Position – utility but primarily a key position defender. Played on Jason Dunstall in the Crows’ inaugural match.

Political career – unsuccessfully ran as the Liberal candidate for Norwood at the 2006 SA State Election running on a platform mostly about the Britannia roundabout. Also unsuccessfully ran across hot coals in 1992 and was unable to convince South Australians that the Crows should wear the state guernsey in the 2014 heritage round despite a convincing argument.


Ray Groom

Football career – played 96 games for Melbourne in the VFL from 1963-1968 including the Best and Fairest in 1968. Represented Victoria and Tasmania and was an accomplished sprinter and long jumper. Position – centre half forward, centre half back, rover.

Political career – was unsuccessful in contesting for the Liberal Party for federal seat of Braddon in 1969. Won the seat in 1975 and held it until 1984. Held portfolios in Fraser Ministries from 1977-1980. Entered the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 1986 as a member for Denison and immediately handed a portfolio. Became opposition leader in 1991 and Premier at the 1992 State Election. Resigned as Premier in 1996 rather than seek coalition with the Greens who held the balance of power. Left parliament in 2001.


Darrel Baldock

Football career – St Kilda’s most recent premiership captain. Played 119 games for the club from 1962-1968. Represented a number of Taswegian teams (captain coaching Latrobe to four consecutive NWFU premierships) as well as the state 15 times and Victoria 10 times. St Kilda Best and Fairest in 1962, 1963 and 1965 and All Australian in 1966. Also coached St Kilda from 1987-1989 and played two first class cricket matches for Tasmania (also known as a ‘Robran’). Position – centre half forward

Political career – was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly as a representative of the Labor Party from 1972-1987, half of that time within the Ministry.


Brian Dixon

Football career – played 252 games for Melbourne from 1954-1968 including the 1956, 1957, 1959, 1960 and 1964 premierships. Best and Fairest in 1960 and All Australian in 1961. Also coached North Melbourne from 1971-1972. Position – wing

Political career – a rare beast combining his playing / coaching with his spot in parliament, Dixon was elected as the Liberal candidate for the state seat of St Kilda at the 1964 election. Held a number of portfolios during his time in parliament. Eventually lost his seat in 1982, his electoral fortunes mirroring that of his party.


Percy Jones

Football career – another Tasmanian, Percy played for North Hobart and then 249 games for Carlton from 1966-1979, coaching the club during the 1980 season. He played in four premierships: 1968, 1970, 1972 and 1979 and won the Best and Fairest in 1978. Position – ruckman, forward pocket, North Fitzroy Arms

Political career – Jones ran for the Liberal Party for state parliament in the early 1980s under the memorable slogan ‘point Percy at parliament’. Sadly, Victorians thought otherwise.


Sam Newman

Football career – played 300 games for Geelong from 1964-1980 and eight games for Victoria. Won the Best and Fairest in 1968 and 1975 and was an All Australian in 1969. Position – ruckman, back pocket

Political career – apparently Sam ran for the Liberal Party at some point but not even Queenslanders would make this Newman Premier.


Gavin Kenneally

Football career – a dashing midfielder for Central Augusta in the Spencer Gulf League. A 16 year old Whyalla lad, Barrie Robran, played on Kenneally in his first game of senior football. Kenneally does not claim to have held his own. Position – wing, centre, centre half forward

Political career – represented the Labor Party in the state seat of Stuart from 1970-1989. Became Minister for Fire Services in 1980.


Joe Darling

Football career – played a handful of games for Norwood in the SAFL in 1894 and 1895, a premiership player in his first season. Chose to concentrate on cricket for some reason. Position – backman

Political career – elected to the Tasmanian seat of Cambridge in 1921 as an independent and remained in parliament until he died in 1946.


Shirley Jeffries

Football career – played 10 games for Norwood in the SAFL in 1907 and transferred to Sturt in 1908. Norwood won the premiership and the Champions of Australia title against Carlton in 1907 but Jeffries did not play in either game. Position – midfield, forward

Political career – Jeffries was elected to the SA House of Assembly as the Liberal Federation member for North Adelaide in 1927. He ran for leader of the party in 1938 but was passed over for some bloke called Playford.


Note: thanks to Matt Brown, Chris Rees, Smokie Dawson and Gubby Brown for their memories thus far


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About Dave Brown

Upholding the honour of the colony. "Play up Norwoods!"


  1. Richard Smith says

    great project, hope more turn up

  2. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Cmon Browny you got Patto and missed,Neags out ! Rick Neagle played 66 games and kicked 84 goals Inc
    6 in the 82 gf.Rick is the president of dignity 4 disability and ran for the seat of Dunstan in the 2014 state election.Rick does a incredible amount of work for the disability sector and is the driving force behind the count me in campaign

  3. bob.speechley says

    Phil Clearly would need to be around the ball. As a Carlton supporter he’d revel in roving to “Harry” Madden and would certainly help out if the ” fur started to fly”. Great leader and had a couple of flags at Coburg to boot. Coached West Coburg underage sides successfully and was a mentor for current Gold Coast Sun – Adem Saad.

  4. Keiran Croker says

    Geelong players Nipper Trezise and Damian Drum both had/have distinguished careers in the Victorian Government holding ministeries.
    Phil Cleary was a precocious half forward. Nippy and cheeky! Kicked plenty of goals!
    I’m sure there are many more Dave. I’ll keep thinking.

  5. This morning on 3CR i’m going to talk about Pastor Doug Nicholls. This will be from 09-00 to 09-30 Melbourne time, 855 on the am dial.

    Two chaps with good political insight who never ran for parliament were a pair of Percy Jones team mates from the 1970 flag side; Brent Crosswell and Ted Hopkins.

    I’m certain Carl Ditterich ran as an independent candidate in the 1999 Victorian state election.


  6. Sam Loxton, played for St Kilda (with Keith Miller) and won the goal kicking in 1944, was a member of the 1948 Invincibles & served in the Victorian Parliament for over 20 years.

  7. Dave Brown says

    All great suggestions, folks, keep ’em coming. Could be enough for two teams. Have also had Billy Brownless suggested on the faceybook

  8. “Typical pinko ABC/Almanac bias” as I was saying to Barnaby just the other day.
    What about David Wirrpanda – Eagles 2006 premiership player and 227 games. Ran for the National Party as a Senate Candidate (unsuccessful) at the last Federal Election.
    And Damian Drum – Geelong 63 games – Dockers coach 53 games (13/40 – Ross would take those numbers this year) and Nationals member for the Northern Region in the Victorian Upper House since 2006. Minister for Sport in the Napthine government (does owning a racehorse with Robbie Waterhouse qualifying Dennis for Crio’s pollies team of the century?)
    Now the Nationals candidate for Murray at the upcoming Federal Election.
    PM material? Minister for Miscreant Mutts?

  9. Rabid Dog says

    Excellent read. I would have Sam Loxton at the front, and either Plug Harcourt (The Airport Economist), or Kym Mayes (Ex-AUFC stalwart, and former SA govt minister in Rann govt) on HBF. Although Peter Malinauskas (SA Minister for Police etc – could be handy if the opposition wants to get a bit willing…) is currently showing good form in the AUFC lower grades. Chris Sumner (ex-SA Attorney-general) on the bench (boom! Tish!).

  10. Andrew Fithall says

    Bill Sykes played 48 games for Fitzroy. Retired from Victorian Parliament (Nationals) in 2014.
    Only kicked 2 goals in his career so doubt he could fill the full-forward spot.

  11. Dave Brown says

    And while we’re on Adelaide Uni Blacks Rabid Dog, Rick Sarre that unsuccessfully ran against Christopher Pyne in Sturt is the owner of a black jumper with a white v is he not?

  12. Those fortunate enough to have been at the “Tassie “lunch at the North Fitzroy Arms a couple of weeks ago will recall mention of the 1967 “Goalposts” State Final between Wynyard and North Hobart (and will recall Percy Jones exclaiming “I played in that !”) The respective captain -coaches that day , John Coughlan ( Hawthorn,Oakleigh) and John Devine ( Geelong , player and coach) later sat together on the back benches of the Tasmanian Parliament, as recounted in this great essay by ( Dr ) Peter Hay-
    -who gave a wonderful address to a gathering of ancient Tas Uni Football Club types and their partners and spouses at Penguin last weekend.

  13. Pol Sci Alert: Tasmania is the only Australian alert with multi-member seats under the Hare Clark system. State seats have the same 5 boundaries as for the Federal Parliament (also unique). Each seat elects 5 members (was 7 from 1959 – 1998). With a roughly 50:50 Lib:Lab divide – who gets the fifth member often depends on local visibility ‘name factor’. Hence the eagerness for political parties to pursue sporting celebrities as candidates – which brings me to:
    John Devine – ALP member for the state seat of Denison from 1979 – 1984. 118 games with Geelong including the 63 flag. Coached Geelong for 66 games (86-88). Played and coached North Hobart from 67-74 including BOG in the 67 Final when Phantom from Wynyard (are you still out there?) tore down the goal posts before Dickie Collins could take his kick.
    Jim Wilkinson – Current President of the Tasmanian Legislative Council (member since 1995). Played 15 games for South Melbourne in the VFL (70-72) and then returned to play for Sandy Bay in the TFL (when Tassie had 3 leagues). Played state cricket (73-75) and also Australian Royal Tennis champion (must be a Lib). Long term footy and cricket radio commentator and on the Tasmanian Football Commission. (Phew – politics must be a hobby).

  14. Malcolm Ashwood says

    We had the pollies huge game several weeks ago
    ( Mally wouldn’t survive with the afl shot clock ) and Rick Bizz Sarre gun lower grade player for the blacks and indeed a SAAFL medalist

  15. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great team Dave, but can they be trusted !!?
    Rendle ‘Mac’ Holten played for Collingwood as a forward in the late 1940s. Was also Vice-captain of the MCC. Country/Nationals member for Indi from 1958 to 1977.

  16. Dave Brown says

    Reckon we’ll get a Tasmania team out of this based upon all this fabulous feedback. I like the Hare Clark theory PB. Might explain former rugby league players Paul Osborne and (extremely briefly) Mal Meninga in the ACT with a Hare Clark too.

  17. When I worked in Canberra politics in the 80’s there were 2 senior ALP apparatchiks with prominent VFL careers.
    Geoff Pryor and Ken Bennett were both ALP Assistant National Secretaries and genuinely “top blokes”. Geoff was a tall lanky defender who played 137 games for Essendon between 65 and 74 (with 2 years off overseas). He played in the Dons’ 65 flag and the losing 68 GF side. Geoff was a driving force in the formation of the AFL Players Association and their Hardship Fund is named after him. He took part in the 1970 round 1 players strike at the Dons. John Harms and Braham Dabscheck have both written about Geoff’s role in this.
    The more intriguing bloke for me was Ken Bennett who played 56 games for Collingwood from 57-62 and kicked 2 goals in their (in)famous upset flag win over the dominant Demons in 1958. This was the famous game when Murray Weideman said “I’ll take care of Melbourne you other blokes just play footy”.
    In the 1980’s when I casually knew Ken, Collingwood premiership players were as rare as rocking horse shit. I once stayed up all night to watch the Grand Final Marathon just so I could see the last quarter of that game. Little blonde Ken looked too slight to have played in that ferocious era, as you can see in this photo.

  18. Great idea and read Dave. An addition from Alberton way… Chris Natt played 216 games for Port Adelaide and in 2005 ran as a Labor candidate in the NT Legaslative Assembly, and won.

  19. Dave Brown says

    Good addition, Mike & loving the Nicky Winmar on the home page! And while we’re on NT politics how could I have forgotten Maurice Rioli?

  20. How did we all forget the greatest player to qualify for this list – Maurice Rioli? Maurice was ALP member for Arafura in the NT Legislative Assembly from 1992 to 2001. 118 games for Richmond (82-87). Norm Smith medallist in 82 (in a losing side). 3 x All Australian. Twice Richmond B&F. Had 2 stints for South Fremantle in the WAFL before and after Richmond, playing 168 games and winning the 1980 flag. Won 2 Simpson Medals for BOG in a WAFL GF.
    In a week when we celebrate Indigenous Round and the Almanac raising $15K to restore the grave of footy and cricket pioneer Tom Wills (congrats Phil, John and Marius – proud) it is worth remembering (so others don’t repeat it) that Tom and Maurice both had their lives diminished by addiction and mental health issues. Tom with the grog and Maurice with a gambling addiction. Life is in the struggle as much as the achievement.

  21. Dave Brown says

    Spot on PB – just realised that glaring omission at the same time. Also, where are the Richmond people pointing out that Jack Dyer ran against Sam Loxton for the ALP?

  22. Ross Hutchinson would have many of these covered… as a footballer

  23. Mick Jeffrey says

    Shaun Hart ran for a Queensland senate seat in the 2007 Federal Election for the Family First Party

  24. Nic McGay says

    Great topic, DB.

    Wrong code, but of the current parliamentarians, Glenn “The Brick with Eyes” Lazarus would have to be the most prominent former professional footy player. Moreover, the former PUP apostle is possibly the only (*fact check required*) one amongst this select club in history to start his own political party, the imaginitively-titled Glenn Lazarus Team –

    He’s even persuaded his old front-row comrade, former Brisbane Broncos, QLD and Australian hooker Kerrod Walters to join the “GLT” Queensland senate ticket for the July poll. It’s slightly ironic that the forward pack is leading rugby league’s foray into politics.

  25. Although tenuous, I nominate Ric Charlesworth as the coach on the strength of his work as a high performance consultant with the Dockers and 10 years (’83-’93) in Federal Parliament.

    His coaching bona fides are demonstrated by stints in charge of the Australian women’s and men’s hockey teams. Under his guidance the women’s team swept just about all before it.

  26. Dave Brown says

    Once again, thanks for all your great suggestions folks. Reckon will have a 1sts and reserves. More names to have emerged from the depths of time: Warwick Capper, Geoff Ablett, Hugh Delahunty, Murray Thompson, Peter Hall, Steve Oliver

  27. Phil Cleary here. Played half forward flank and midfield. 318 goals, premiership player 1979. Premiership coach 1988/89.

  28. I am tipping that Mel Meninga doesn’t get a
    guernsey after his ill-fated attempt to enter
    the political arena??

  29. One from an earlier era: J. J. (John James) Liston.
    Liston played at Williamstown in the VFA around the turn of the previous century,
    was a Williamstown councillor for many years (in the 1920’s), then went on to be
    a Melbourne City Councillor.
    Of course, the VFL (formerly VFA) best and fairest is the J J Liston trophy and there
    is the J J Liston Stakes. The name Liston is all over the place in Williamstown.

  30. Surely Gough was a lumbering but serviceable ruckman? His basso comments would have provided plenty of ironic inspiration in the huddle too.


  31. Scott McIntyre says

    I haven’t read through super-carefully, but I’m not sure if anyone has mentioned Don Chipp.

    Played in a VFL reserves premiership with Melbourne, a VFA premiership with Prahran, and played 3 senior games for Fitzroy.

    From what I can gather, he was a speedy and skilful wingman – speedy enough to have run in a Stawell Gift final.

  32. Albo at FF. Go whalers!

  33. Mic Rees says

    Doug Wade was unsuccessful in his attempt to take Polwarth for the Country Party in the 1970 Victorian State Election.

    Kicked three for the Cats that afternoon in their loss to the Bloods.

    Problem (FF) solved.


  34. Dave Brown says

    Wow, blown away by the sheer numbers – great suggestions all! Also told on twitter that Doug Hawkins ran for Clive Palmer at the last election – let’s face it, someone has to run for him.

    Gough has been photographed in a prison bar and Sturt guernsey, Mickey. Case closed

  35. Jerry Dolan, one of the greats of WA football, was a minister in John Tonkin’s Labor Government. He was an MLC from 1963 to 1974.

    Dolan coached East Fremantle to five premierships and East Perth to one.

    Des Headland was a Palmer candidate.

    But can you really be said to have had a political career when all you did was run for election?

  36. Troy Luff played his 500th senior game yesterday. Future Premier!

  37. Trevor Sprigg was State Liberal member for Murdoch in Perth’s south from 2005 to 2008.
    He played 152 games for East Fremantle and 6 for WA. Then went to Tassie and was captain/coach of Glenorchy playing 92 games; 10 State games and won the State flag in 75. Was Chairman of Selectors at the Eagles from 90 to 92 and then was a consultant in the establishment of the Dockers.
    Before my time in WA but I think he was a key defender, mostly CHB from my memory of state games in that era.

  38. Back to Sir Ross Hutchinson. He played for East Fremantle (two Lynn Medals as F&B), West Perth and South Fremantle. And coached each club to a premiership EF (1937 captain/coach), WP (1941), SF (1947, c/c and 1948).

    He was a member of parliament from 1950 to 1977 and was a Minister under David Brand.

  39. Dave Brown says

    Thanks for the leads on the WA footballer/politicians Les, PB. I think we probably have enough coodabeen politicians, Les, to make up a team on its own. It would be by far the funniest of the teams

  40. Yes Mick, the day Doug Wade ran for Polwarth was the day South Melbourne won at Geelong for the first time in many years. Does anybody remember South Melbourne? They were an original member of the VFL, but have not existed since 1981.

    Their victory over Geelong in that 1970 clash is famous for a spectator hurling an apple core at Doug Wade, when he took a shot for goal late in the last quarter. Wade missed, South Melbourne won by 7 points and as they say; that’s history


  41. Mic Rees says


    The infamous “apple core” incident was later in the year Round 20 – Cats 10.14/Bloods 11.15.

    The May 30 clash (46 years ago today) was at the Lakeside Oval – SM 19.14/Geel 10.18


  42. Spot on Michael. I’m pretty sure that wade kicked 3 in both encounters that season.

    Correct me if i’m wrong on the next point.

    On May 30 Essendon delivered Collingwood their first defeat of the 19170 season winning by 5 points at Windyhill, and if my memory serves me right reigning premiers Richmond were beaten by North Melbourne, 16-7-103 to 10,17,77. Fitzroy might also have beaten your mobby 2 points that day.

    Fitzroy, South Melbourne two clubs that are now history.


  43. Mic Rees says

    Glen – May 30 1970

    The other five games that round were

    Essendon 13.15 defeated Collingwood 11.21@ WH (Rose & Eakins’ senior debuts for the Pies. How appropriate Footscray & Collingwood battled for the Robert Rose Cup yesterday).

    Footscray 11.13 lost to Fitzroy 12.9 @VFL Park (Austin & Salmon debut for Scrays)

    Richmond 10.17 lost to NM 15.7@ MCG (Grant Oppy’s only game for the Tigers)

    Carlton 10.14 lost to Hawthorn 15.16 at P Park (Hawks 2-7 still in 12th place after that win)

    St Kilda 14.12 defeated Melbourne 7.11 @ Moorabbin

    Hope that helps


  44. Ta Michael, my scores were a tad skewiff.

    Hawthorn had a shocking start to the year, prior to a good finish. A portender for 1971.

    It was the first Fitzroy had won at VFL Park. They played the very first game there, V Geelong in R 3 of that season.


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