The Alex Docherty Column – Through The Eyes Of A Child: The 90s

This week leading up to the weekend has a bit of a 90s flavour to it – for this you can thank both Fox Footy and the Fremantle Dockers for this.

Fox Footy this week is doing what has become a yearly tradition in celebrating ‘retro round’ – it’s a bit of a call back to the days of celebrating heritage round in football and honestly, I can’t be the only one that wants to see clubs wear heritage guernseys a little bit more often, right?

Then Fremantle went and released the guernsey that they will be playing in on Sunday evening against Richmond – a revised edition of their first guernsey: an anchor with the green and purple surrounding it.

For years, I looked at this guernsey and thought to myself how ugly that was on first glance, but seeing the photo of Alex Pearce wear the guernsey is making me doubt myself a hell of a lot. For some odd reason just looks very beautiful… the guernsey, not the man wearing it, although there are probably a few people I know that will have a differing opinion on that.

Although it must be said, I much rather their guernsey where they had the red and green on either side of the anchor, that just looked so out there, something different. When they released that retro guernsey a couple of years ago, I thought it looked amazing.

One thing is for sure is that if I oversaw Fremantle, I’d have the players go back to wearing that classic anchor strip, as well as bringing back the old logo. Look, maybe it is a bit outdated now, but god damn it is was much more colourful and exuberant as opposed to purple shield with an anchor on it.

My recollection of football throughout the 90s is a bit hazy: I was born in 1993, which meant the first few years of my life have been something I have absolutely trouble remembering at the best of times. It also doesn’t help that I’ve had a few hits to the head since I started playing football in my early teens.

What I do know however, is that I’ve always been a sucker for nostalgia. It was only just last night, I was lying in bed listening to an 11-hour YouTube video that compiled a list of soundtracks from old PlayStation one games that were supposed to ‘soothe your soul’ and kept referring back to various moments of my childhood dedicated to playing a certain game.

Anyway, enough spiel on video games. I also lied down in bed for what felt like an eternity trying to think about football in the 90s. Admittedly, I probably only just started engaging with football towards the end of the decade, so you’re going to have to forgive me if it’s more centred towards the last few years of the 90s!

I don’t think I was even five when I decided that the Bulldogs were going to be my team. I can’t even remember how it came to that, considering that I lived a bit away from the Western suburbs. I can remember my mother had been campaigning to get me to barrack for Richmond– I still remember the pyjamas and the badge she made for me when I was a toddler. It almost felt like a big pitch in the domestic free agent market.

From the moment I grasped an understanding of the game, it all snowballed into something I absolutely loved. I probably can’t pinpoint an exact moment, but I can say that I loved the big hits, I loved the clever goals, and the big marks – it just felt like there was no other sport in the world that had all of this on the television screen.

It didn’t stop at being glued to the lounge room floor. As a child, I collected so much memorabilia.

Every year, I’d hang out for the Herald Sun’s collection of team photo albums. Whereas my parents were quite fixated on buying the paper for the news and everything that was going on, I was just pestering them to get the next photo to add to the team album.

I still have the collections of all the teams from 1997 all the way up to 2000 lodged somewhere underneath my bed, as I do the old sticker albums that you would buy at your local newsagency up the road.

There was quite a bit I’d pester my mother for up there: PlayStation Magazines, AFL stickers that you add to the book that came with it and… I’m pretty sure Crazy Bones were in during the late 90s – I still have a big bag of those somewhere and Pokemon was most certainly the biggest craze at the time, I had collected a fair bit of Pokemon stuff as well.

Oh my god, I almost forgot about these ‘magic moments’ collectors cards you could get with your scratchies and these ‘magic vision’ cards you used to get at Tattslotto!

The magic vision cards were holographic and had a magnet at the back of the card so you could stick it to your fridge and you could assemble the team on your fridge door. I think my old man and I got at least 80 percent of the team on there, I’m not sure how many remain though, quite a few of them ended up getting chewed out by dogs.

I’m sure you’ve had enough of me talking about collecting things – How much football can I actually remember? Well there are certain moments that live in your head. You never forget your first game and as far back as I can remember, my first game was in 1999, when my parents took me to watch the Bulldogs lose to West Coast in a qualifying final at the MCG, and as you can imagine from a five-year old, I wasn’t happy about the result at all.

It took me a fair while to understand that losing is something you needed to deal with and accept, but even once you understood that losing happens, it still didn’t make it any less easier to watch, even to this day.

I was a bit too young to understand the travesty of the 1997 preliminary final, but maybe that’s a good thing, because if this 15-year old kid who watched the Dogs lose to the Saints in the 2009 prelim watched what happened in 1997, he’d be an inconsolable mess for the next 12 months and would explain to everyone who’d listen, just how much he hated Adelaide, Darren Jarman and that bloody goal umpire.

Another part about the 90s that sticks to me to this day is State of Origin, I know it’s already a beaten topic, but goodness, there was just something about watching star talent representing your state that as a kid especially, you absolutely adored.

As much as I want State of Origin football to come back as a yearly thing, it’s apparent these days that representing your state is basically a dead art. Players want to watch their body and not add the extra pressure and stress if they can avoid it – and that’s understandable.

Of course, the 1995 State of Origin, the one that featured Ted Whitten’s lap of honour before his passing will remain locked away in the vaults as one of the more iconic moments in the AFL-era, but I would have been none the wiser about anything that happened during the 1995 or 96 years.

I can still vividly remember watching 1999 State of Origin with my dad in the lounge room, and we were watching a fresh-faced Brent Harvey absolutely slice through South Australians like he was in a class above. Who were we to know that he was going to be the league’s games record holder a good 17 years down the track?

That Victorian side had blokes such as Anthony Koutoufides in his prime, Matthew Lloyd in the best years of his goal-kicking career, stalwarts of the 90s such as Nathan Burke, Brett Ratten and Wayne Campbell and of course, some of my favourite Bulldogs in Brad Johnson, Rohan Smith, Scott West  and the first footballer I idolised in Chris Grant.

As a kid, I’d watch Grant play and he just puts you in awe with a lot of the things he did. Commentators called him the Rolls-Royce and especially when you look back at it now, there was no doubt that the nickname was apt. No matter where he played – either up forward or in defence, he was just very graceful moving around and always knew how to maximise his impact on the contest either as a forward or in defence… damn it, I wish he won the 1997 Brownlow.

For years I’d resented Robert Harvey for ‘stealing’ the medal away from Grant, but really, that’s doing a disservice to a bloke who’s been arguably one of St Kilda’s best players in the modern era. The more you got to watching him, the more you could see why he was held in such a high regard: He won so many critical contested possessions and he didn’t mind if he had to put his body on the line to do it.

I remembered Tony Lockett kicking the 1300th goal to break the goal kicking record against Collingwood in 1999 – how can you forget such an iconic moment in Australian Rules Football?

Of course, kicking goals in the 90s occurred much greater than the game today. Maybe that’s part of the nostalgia talking there, but I do feel that games were better when they were free-flowing and high scoring, although it must be said that today’s game has there’s a greater emphasis and appreciation on defence before attack.

I suppose another thing I do miss in the game today is the constant centurion goal-kickers in the AFL. I was fortunate enough to watch Lockett, Lloyd, Gehrig and Franklin all get the ton, and even Jason Dunstall get his last 100 goal-season in 1996. I was also quite fortunate to see lads like Scott Cummings, Tony Modra, the Rocca Brothers and – despite the shit he pulled off field – Wayne Carey destroy sides in the span of two hours per week.

The ongoing debate about who the greatest player to ever play game is a discussion that I find to be useless. Sure, they may have been good in their era, but the game is an ever-evolving competition and with that, you’ll find players that will adapt to rules and regulations that continue to change.

It would feel a bit futile trying to compare what Leigh Matthews achieved at Hawthorn in the 1970s with Dustin Martin over the past five years, like it would Lockett breaking records all throughout the 1980s and 90s with Tom Hawkins being one of the more team-oriented full forwards of our time.

However, if you were to ask me about the best players that I’ve seen and compile a list, Plugger would have to be up there as a top-five candidate.

Albeit, I caught him towards the tail-end of his career, he was still a massive force to be reckoned with in his later days. He lead strong, he had that massive body that could bowl over almost anyone who dared to stand in his way and his kicking technique was just absolute perfect: For the kids like me who wanted to grow up to be goalkicker, his technique was, and still is, the way.

Can we say the 1990s were the best time for football? Look probably not, I’d love to say the 2000s was one of the best decades in footy, but that’s a story for another time.

I’d certainly wager however that the 90s was one of the more defining periods for the league in terms of expanding beyond Victoria, for we got Fremantle, Adelaide and Port Adelaide in during this decade, whilst we also saw the sad demise of Fitzroy, who merged with the Brisbane Bears to become what is known today as the Brisbane Lions.

Although my memories of the 90s are limited, I can safely say that it was what I did see in this decade that made me fall in love with football, and yes, whilst I would love to go back and wish the game just stayed as it is, the reality is that sport – whether it’s this one, or it’s something else – continues to evolve.

It does feel nice though, to go back for a stroll down memory lane just to see what kickstarted your passion for footy in the first place.


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