My earliest memory was about being five years old, riding a tricycle on the veranda where we lived. Funny, that still stays with me.
I lived at Hawthorne, right on the park. That allowed me to have access to a football ground right at the back of my home. So it gave me a big advantage, as far as training was concerned. I suppose I had success at an early age. At 17, I was captain of the A reserve grade premiership side. At that time, Morningside didn’t have a senior A grade side. Their top side was a reserve grade side, and I captained this team to a premiership. At 17, that was a bit of a feather in my cap you might say, for captaining players in my team that were old enough to be my father. I was chosen to captain because of my ability, but it must have been some leadership qualities as well. And the following year, after this premiership reserve grade, Morningside were promoted to the A grade, and I captained their A grade side. We didn’t do too well. But I went on and won the Grogan medal at that time, similar to the Brownlow in Victoria, which was the best and fairest in the competition. I represented Queensland. I was probably 18 then, and went to Canberra, and Sydney and played in the state football there.
Well, it was an honour to win the best and fairest as it’s a really prestigious award. At 18, I was probably the youngest one to have won it. The following year I won it again. The following year, the third year in A grade, I was runner up. I had a pretty illustrious career you might say, as a younger person.
I wasn’t really an outgoing, football type of person off the field, but I had a very good coach in a guy called Clem Ryan, who was a top player himself and a top coach. He actually coached the Queensland team. He instilled in me the white line fever – you cross the white line going onto a football field, you change your personality, you’ve got to get the ball, and you’ve got to stop the opposition from getting it whatsoever.
I had a couple of pretty serious injuries early in the piece, the worst was a punctured lung. A clash of body sort of thing and broken ribs, the rib went through my lung. They didn’t discover exactly how bad this was at that time. I’d signed up to go to Melbourne to play with St Kilda. At that stage, I was to go on a Tuesday. This was a Sunday game that we played. When I did get injured, they checked on me at the ground and I was in a pretty bad way. I had trouble breathing. They raced me up in the ambulance to hospital Royal Brisbane, and they kept me under observation for a few hours and then thought it was a problem with a muscle injury in my stomach.
They let me go home. And I had trouble sleeping during the night. I still went on the plane trip on the Tuesday and on the flight down to Melbourne, they had to get the plane up over a storm, and the air was very rare, and in those days they weren’t pressurised like they are these days. And I had trouble breathing on the way down in the plane. They had me lying down the hallway and all the other passengers thought I was dying. I thought I was, too. Couldn’t breathe, got down to Melbourne, rushed to the hospital straight away. They diagnosed that then as a punctured lung and they did a minor operation where they allowed the pressure in my chest to come out, which allowed my lung to come up and start breathing normally again, such a relief. I thought, you know, in the plane trip down I probably might have been in the process of my last breath sort of thing. I thought my career might have been over at that stage, came back to Queensland, only missed nine games, and then started resuming a local competition up here.
I won the Grogan medal that same year that I played only nine games. I probably got best on field for nine games, 27 points. I think it was you got three points for best on field? So I did well when I look back on it to come to that level where I didn’t allow bad injury to affect me to any great extent.
Having that injury and experience gave me more determination. That’s what I had basically on a football field and probably in life as well. I came from not a wealthy family at all, just a working-class family. But to excel in a sport like that, it was a credit to myself and to my family that I could succeed in something in my life.