Discussion: Today’s Champions



Right now I’m wondering if Martin Pike was a Champion. Four Premierships, All-Australians. A B&F. He did it in winning sides, he did it with no support at Fitzroy.

What about John Blakey? Rohan Smith? Both played over 300 games of elite level football. Many say you can’t reach that number without being one. I’m not so sure. It’s funny. If they had played for, say, Hawthorn in the 80s and 90s it probably wouldn’t even be a question.

Is Nick Riewoldt one? Was he one?

Pagan’s Premiership teams, how many Champions did they have? Carey. Archer. The others…? Hmm.

Was Buckenara a Champion, or a great player in a great team?

It’s 4am. I’ve just finished work at the desk, and have to be up for work in the bush tomorrow. Today. Whatever. The seniors are playing in the Granny this week. I’m stoked for them, the coach, the club. Over the moon! But the Ressies bowed out two weeks ago. I came back four games after breaking my leg and played a shocker.

A shocker!

There’s jealousy in there. Mighty jealousy. I have to be honest. I’m insanely green with envy of any player in any team in any league still spinning around. The GF will be dominating their every thought, move, choice in food, sleep, telly watching. Training will be a nightmare of nerves for some, the best time of their lives for others. Me, I can push the chainsaw like a zombie through the cold and drizzle tomorrow, trip all I want on my broken leg, eat shit food and get fat. Get things done. My season’s over.

4am seems the perfect time to decide who is and isn’t a Champion.


First comes the word. Champ. There was a while, maybe a decade, with the rise of the midget jockey callers as football commentators, when the it meant nothing. That used it on legends of the game, servants of it, its foot soldiers and boot-strappers.

These days they’ve gone the other way. Are too scared to call anything other than names and numbers. Besides, in a modern world, who wants to be a Champion when you can be an “Elite player of the comp”? Or, better yet, in the Celebrity Age, a Superstar.

Yeah, baby!

What a cop-out. How shallow. How American. I like Champion.


What is one? A player who does what he does, at a level better than anyone else for a decade.

A decade.

That’s how I see it. Cotchin is a young gun. A jet. Commentators are so busy tripping over each other’s hard-ons to praise him, it’s almost too cringe-worthy to listen to. But jeez, I like watching him play! Five more years of it, big deeds on big occasions, and he’ll be one.

I loved watching Gary Lyon, but thought he wasn’t one. He had a stellar year, no mistake. Was one of the league’s best, but injuries cobbled him after that. Not his fault. He played on, did what he could, showed flashes of what might have been. Was an inspiration at times, a leader of men.

Just not quite a Champion.

A Brownlow is no guarantee, either. Woewodin wasn’t one. Wynd from the Doggies? A damn good honest player, I thought.

Jimmy Stynes? Hmm. A dead set, out-and-out corker Champion bloke! But Champion footballer? Did he really stand out that much over all the other ruckmen of his generation? Maybe. I would like to have seen more of him.

My point with him, is personality should not be a factor. Otherwise Roos, Bobby Skilton and Robert Flower would be the only three in history. Often it’s the driven, the obsessed, or simply extreme personalities that make a Champion.

Personally, I thought Leigh Matthews was more a king-hitting thug than a Champion, but everyone I know who played on an oval with him would say different. Nicholls, Ablett Sr, Carey, Lockett, Winmar, Cousins. None of them would win too many Girl Guide Awards, or be the best role models, but, sorry, in our family we raise our own kids, teach them right from wrong, that sportsmen and women aren’t Gods, just people. It’s a damn important lesson. Something we used to know before we became American. Before superstars were an excuse for and answer to everything.

Even parenting.

I’m talking about football. They were all Champions.

In fact, I disagree with me on Matthews. He was a Champion. One of the best, damn it.

Spud was a Champion to me. So was Jimmy Jess and Leo Barry. God bless the tough, loyal backman! But, in honesty, in the bigger picture, maybe they weren’t Champions like Jakovich, Southby, Hunter.

And a player isn’t a Champion just because the “experts” tell you he is. There’s a lot of bandwagon in AFL commentary. Lots of trends and fashions.

Make your own decisions.

Which brings me to another point. A ripper. In some ways, the biggest one. There’s no right or wrong. It’s subjective. Hell, even the term Champion is subjective! Ha!

Anyways, the previously mentioned are my loose terms.


Here and now, come 5am, are my current Champions.

In no order.


Mitchell. Buddy. Hodge, J. Brown. Goodes. Cox, Kerr, Pendlebury, Bartel, Scarlett, Ablett, Hayes, Black, Judd, Boomer.

Goodard I’m unsure on. He has not had a good year. Has he earned it over what he’s done so far? Was he elite for only two or three years, or ten? Will he bounce back? I damn well hope so.


Here are some that are close.

Bolton, O’Keefe, Glass, Bob Murphy, Lake, Swan, Betts, that ratty little forward pocket for St.Kilda. Sandilands, Enright, Jobe Watson, Fisher, Joel Selwood, Rioli, Newman. The list is endless.


Lastly, here are some that MIGHT, one day, be Champions:

Hawkins, Cotchin, Martin, Dangerfield, Wells, Swallow, half of the Suns, Naitanui, Jetta, Barlow. Others.


If I scrolled over the player lists, it would be easier. But footy isn’t like that to me. It’s a thing of minds and mouths, pub talk and pondering. Off the top of my head, some time before dawn, I decide Martin Pike isn’t quite a Champion by these standards, but is to me.

And always will be.


Outside it’s raining. Work will be hard in a few hours. When I’m done, I’ll go watch the boys training for he Grand Final.

My final thought before sleep is that, of course, anyone who pulls on a boot is a Champion.


  1. I was going to fill out my List of Champions, Near Champions & Future Champions, but by the time I read yours it was too daunting. And it’s only 4 o’clock in the afternoon here.

    You said it all – who are the champions is in the eye of the beholder – and the deed on the day.

    Anyone wearing the Yellow & Black of Struggletown makes the grade for me. Except Jumping Jack Riewoldt whenever he misses another sitter.

  2. Matt

    Love it. Great piece. I wrote a similar Almanac piece earlier this year bemoaning the over use of the word champion and trying to figure out who should be one or harder still, what qualifies you for it.


    The example I used of the overuse of the word was Nick Reiwoldt, who you mention, and I said as good and brave as he is, I didn’t see him in that top echalon.

    Some saints supporters furious but more were happy to say that he wasn’t there yet.

    It’s a great debate and discussion point with so many variables.


  3. Malby Dangles says

    An important thing about champions is that “A champion team will always beat a team of champions”
    Great stuff Matty!

  4. Matt Zurbo says

    Sean, haha, sorry to tread on your toes, mate! Totally agree with you on Nick. Nothing against the bloke, at all, just everybody was so quick to jump on his bandwagon. Tall, good-looking blokes who can play get that. Is the Gary Lyon of his gen. Some people fail to see through the force of personality. I would kill to have a beer with Gaz, seems like a total Champion bloke, but that’s not the point.

    Oh, and I’d well put Daisy Thomas on the potential Champ list.

    And Stevie J on the almost.

  5. Neil Anderson says

    Your right about the hyperbole from modern-day commentators confusing the issue. I guess they’re paid per hyperbole and per pretend spat with their fellow commentators. I was trying to think if Norman Banks. Harry and ‘are you there Tommy’?’ were any different. Anyway, being extremely biased, my ‘champions’ are usually diplayed on banners at Bulldog home games at Etihad. Grant, Johnson, West, Smith,Hawkins and of course EJ. The players of last twelve years in particular were champions apart from their longevity because they were champion quality people first and foremost. They were also champions on the field over a long period. No easy rides for them as they carried their team-mates to give us supporters hope. Sometimes even triumphing over the rich and powerful easy-riders. On that note, is Joel Selwood regarded as a champion after he turned up at Geelong when they were in the middle of winning dynysty? He may have been involved in only one losing team on his home-ground for God’s sake! But don’t get me started on home-ground/home city advantages.

  6. Magnificently written article – and in my view the 3 lists are extremely well thought out and compiled. To the 3rd list, however, I’d add “3/4 of GWS” – especially if sheeds coaches them for more than another.

    Martin Pike IS a champion in my book too. He got the absolute best out of himself and helped his team be the same. Which is why Nick Riewoldt doesn’t make the list – even though he is Captain of the club I support.

    I was there the day Pike kicked 8 goals in a Final against Carlton – an awesome performance – and he only got better from there!

  7. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    I was there (as a spectator) when Martin Pike was going around for Ingle Farm U/11s, alongside the Francou boys Josh and Sam. A fair sort of team if I recall.

    Played alongside his Dad Jeff in the Ingle Farm C’s and his Mum Chris went alright with a softball bat in her hand too.

    Wouldn’t have predicted four AFL flags for him back then though.

  8. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Great topic Matt and I agree a decade is fair enough and think the lists are fair enough and the posts re Gold Coast v GWS to dominate the comp is spot on .
    In this era of leadership being so important Pike is def a champion and is a champion bloke ! A 4 time Premiership Player is unique enough to qualify as a champion
    Thanks Matt

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