Superstar Villain – Warwick Capper

This series will cover players who have made a name for themselves with acts of villainy that cannot be refuted.

Phil Carman’s headbutt of a boundary umpire has been covered, Wayne Carey’s off-field indiscretions will be up soon, and the carnage wrought by a rampaging Dermott Brereton on the field have all earned the ire of rival fans at points, but today’s subject is not the tough guy.

Those I mentioned above were tough blokes. They dished it out on the field, and they took it when it was their turn to put their head over the ball, but our subject today never dished it out. He may have copped it here or there (Mick Martyn in particular liked to make him “earn it”), but he was derided more for what he wasn’t than what he was.

When you think of the name Warwick Capper, to where does your mind wander? Is he really a villain in the V/AFL landscape? Or should that title be taken by the players at the Brisbane Bears?

Capper is a household name, but it’s hard to know if that’s for his playing or his behaviour off field. What is more memorable? The high marks? The tight shorts? Appearances in Penthouse? Pink Ferraris? The over the top personality that has grown more outrageous as the years have gone by?

Whilst it is true that Capper has made a living out of being outlandish since his days in the AFL, it is too often lost how good a player he was at his peak, and it was a peak that was cut short due to an ill-advised move to a Brisbane Bears team that simply didn’t want him.

I can remember standing in the outer of Carrara in 1990. It was Round 11 and I was waiting for a Brisbane v Collingwood game whilst holidaying on the Gold Coast with family. There are a few things that stood out to me that day. I couldn’t believe how far Carrara actually was from Brisbane – why any Brisbane residents would have even made the trip is beyond me. The ground reminded me of a suburban ground, with plenty of standing room, and not much sitting room. And then there was the reserves game taking place as the curtain raiser.

And playing in that curtain raiser was the player who was probably still the highest-paid player at Brisbane at that point – Warwick Capper.

It seemed as though it didn’t matter which team the crowd was barracking for on the day – and my memory is of a crowd that leaned heavily toward the Magpies. Both Collingwood and Brisbane supporters seemed united in their hatred for Capper.

I was situated close to the fence in the forward pocket, so for two quarters I got to hear every comment directed at the great full forward. Every insult, every expletive, and every cutting remark were clearly audible to me, and 20 or 30 metres away, Capper would have heard them loud and clear, as well.

The laughter echoed around the outer when someone made a particularly witty joke at his expense, but Capper did not bat an eyelid, remaining focused on a game that meant very little to anyone not actively involved.

How the mighty had fallen.

And he’d fallen from a great height.

Just a few years before, Capper had been at his absolute peak of his powers as part of the Sydney Swans. His high marking and underrated recovery when the ball hit the deck became the talking point of the league as he notched his one and only century of goals in 1987. More than that, Capper led that Sydney team on an amazing run of three straight games (Rounds 16-18 if you’re playing at home) where the team kicked a total of 97 goals.

Got that? 97 goals in three games. Amazing.

In those games, Capper kicked 16 goals. Though not the absolute star of the show, Capper’s high wire act thrilled the crowd and the avalanche of goals made Sydney games must-watch TV throughout 1986 and 87. Capper was already in the public eye, but these performances made him, and the Swans into the hottest properties in the league.

However after the Swans bowed out of finals action in straight sets in 1987, Capper’s time in Sydney was done. Lured north by a big contract offer by the Bears and former high-flyer in his own right, Christopher Skase, Capper joined the new franchise in a move that shocked the football world, and ultimately ended Capper’s run as a marquee player in the league.

Brisbane were desperate to make an impact on the then-VFL, and they needed big names to do so. They had some of those names already – Mark ‘Choco’ Williams, Geoff Raines, Jim Edmond who captained Footscray, and Brad Hardie who’d run afoul of Mick Malthouse at the Dogs had all signed on for the inaugural season. Roger Merrett was to follow the next year. So too would Capper.

Things went south quickly for Capper, who did not get along with foundation player, Hardie at all. Capper would go onto explain that Hardie would rather “kick the ball on the full than pass it to me.”

It didn’t help that he also did not rate the Brisbane coach at the time, Peter Knights. When asked about Knights, Capper stated he did not think Knights could coach pigs to get dirty. With such a high price tag and such little delivered, it was difficult for Capper to remain part of a team where resentment from other players was palpable.

His time in Brisbane turned out to be an absolute disaster in every way other than financially. He went from 103 goals for the Swans in 1987, to 45 in 1988, then 16 in 1989, followed by an abysmal ten-goal return for 1990. Despite starting his tenure at Brisbane as the league’s highest-paid player, it could be argued that Capper did not even begin to earn the money he was being paid, and early in the 1990 season he found himself dropped back to the seconds to find some form. That form would never really be unearthed again.

He went from being the human highlight package on the AFL to one of the biggest disappointments in footy during his time at Brisbane. Whether or not that was his fault depends on who you ask. Capper, himself, points to the influence of his ex-wife, Joanne in regard to the move.

“I should’ve stood up for myself and said ‘No, I’m staying here’,” he said when he reminisced about his decision to leave Sydney.

There is no doubt that to the Brisbane side, Capper was very much the villain. In Capper, they’d been promised the world. To say they been delivered an atlas would be vastly overstating the value Capper had to the team after that first season.

Capper limped back to Sydney for one last hurrah in 1991 after completing his Brisbane tour of duty and looked to be rejuvenated. Back in the limelight in the city that had embraced him so readily, he snagged 24 goals in his first six games before coming back to earth. He finished the season with 38 goals – the most since his first season in Brisbane, but this season would be his last in the newly-titled AFL.

Capper would fall from grace more so after his retirement, going on to make an adult film, working as a meter maid, and trying his hand at being a lollipop man, before finding his niche in the world of public speaking engagements and celebrity appearances. For a handsome fee, Capper appears at everything from Bucks nights to birthdays.

Treated as a hero during his earlier career, then as an outcast by the team that courted him, then a villain by the football loving public, Capper is finally a hero again to some who are willing to shell out to be in his company.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and watch a nine-goal bag from Capper. On a DVD from Round One in 1987, Capper visits Victoria Park and tears the Magpies a new one. His first quarter is remarkable as he finds space, conjures opportunities, and demonstrates why he was so highly regarded as a player able to clunk marks. He was more than just a highlight machine – fundamentally, his marking on the lead, and the timing to get free is superb, and though he was never a great kick over distance, his accuracy sat right at 62.3% for his career – a better clip than plenty of goal kickers in the modern game.

To regard Capper as a one-trick pony, as seems to be the case for many, is completely unfair in regard to how good he was both on the lead and when the ball hit the deck. You simply do not kick one hundred goals in a season without being a champion of the game.

Some may disregard him as a flash in the pan, given his rapid decline in Brisbane. Some may remember him as a show pony, given the tight shorts and his propensity to accentuate the more spectacular aspects of the game, but watching him work, both in person and now with the luxury of video, it becomes apparent that Capper was far more than just a great leaper – he was highly skilled in many facets of our great game.

Capper remains the AFL’s version of Peter Pan. He is the boy who refused to grow up. Never able to hold down a TV gig, Capper puts it down to being too unpredictable, but someone on the outside looking in would consider that more a reflection of his inability to tone it down when required. The AFL media world is called home by a number of unpredictable and sometimes socially unpalatable personalities. What is it about Capper that causes the AFL to hold him at arm’s reach? Or is it the other way around?

Part of me wonders whether Capper is one of those characters who is always ‘on’ whenever he is around those he is not entirely comfortable with, and whether he has a more sedate side that rarely sees the light of day. If someone acts the fool for long enough, is that who they become? Does it become more of themself and less of an act?

He may have been looked at as a villain by some, but in 1986 and 87, people poured through the gates of the SCG to watch Aussie Rules Football. They weren’t there for Steven Wright, Diesel Williams or Gerard Healy. As good as they were, there was a bigger star in town.

They were there to watch Warwick Capper, and anyone who witnessed one of those majestic, soaring hangers will tell you – he was worth the price of admission alone.

Love him or hate him, for a brief period in time, Capper may have been the biggest name in the game. He was the biggest star in the biggest city in Australia. After making the move to the Carrara sun, in Round 11 1990, I couldn’t tell you one thing about the Collingwood v Brisbane encounter that occurred after that curtain raiser, but I remember a lot about the events involving Warwick Capper.

Hero or villain, he was unforgettable.

 

 

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