But mosI feel deeply honoured to be amongst the first group to be inducted into the AFL Ontario (Australian Football) Hall of Fame.
No-one, including me would have imagined that Australian Football would have taken off the way it has since being introduced into Canada back in 1989.
Now that is surprising enough, but to eventually develop a Hall of Fame is quite another. A few people have asked me how it I got involved.
Here is the story…
It all began with a series of advertisements in the Toronto local neighbourhood papers including the Toronto Sun asking if anyone wanted to come and have a “kick of the footy”.
Bill Frampton and Jim Cornish were behind the advertisements and within a few days had fielded several calls from a few interested parties.
Subsequently a date was set to get together and talk about gathering people together to have a kick, but maybe even a game (with limited numbers).
The following people attended the meeting at Kingsley Ellis’ business in Etobicoke on May 25th, 1989.
Bill Frampton, Jim Cornish, Kingsley Ellis, Jury Klymko, Sandro Mancino and me. Two other guys attended but we never heard from them again. So, this became the group of six.
It was decided to try and get as many friends as possible, family, work colleagues, to spread the word to see how many people we could bring out.
During this meeting we set the lofty goal of establishing the Canadian Australian Football Association (CAFA).
It was agreed to contact the Victorian Football League (now the AFL) to see if they would help us in any way.
We set the following Tuesday night as our first training and get together. We met at Centennial Park (adjacent to Soccer City and the Ski Hill) at the cricket pitches.
Fortunately for our fledgling group the VFL were responsive and indeed said that Toronto was already the targeted venue for the Fosters Cup game scheduled for October 12th to be played at the then, Skydome.
The group then set about coordinating with the VFL to get sets of football jerseys sent over from Australia.
Training began in earnest with 15 people on the first night, before additional people began to join in over the ensuing weeks. It wasn’t long before we had 35 guys excited at the prospect of having a kick or learning the game of footy.
To choose the teams we conducted a draft at Soccer City one night after training and prior to our five-game season.
With a flip of the coin between the two coaches – John Pearson (Johno) and me.
Johno won the toss and chose Sandro Mancino as his first Canadian pick, and I chose Danny Timmins. As it turned out, both outstanding Canadian players in the early days of the league.
I then had the first choice of jerseys. With this I chose the darker Melbourne colours and Mick received the Geelong colours (blue and white hoops).
In that first year we played a total of five games, of which the Mississauga Mustangs whom I played and coached won three of the first four games.
However, like most competitive leagues it came down to the “Grand Final” or last game of the year to see who would be crowned Premiers.
The game was played on the Saturday after the Fosters Cup game.
We were fortunate in that many of the VFL officials including Allen Aylett the then President and Ron Barassi (one of the most famous coaches of all time) were in attendance.
In addition, we were also blessed to have a number of the Geelong and Melbourne players attend as well.
Seems almost surreal to have professional players coming to our game and cheering us on…
The other highlight of the game was that Ron Barassi came into our team huddle and listened intently to my speech at half time.
As the players began to break up and head out to their positions on the field to begin the third quarter, he came up to me and patted me on the back and said “good speech coach”.
Although I wish I could say that we won that game it wasn’t meant to be…
I continued playing and coaching the Mississauga Mustangs through to the end of the 1995 season. I stepped down as coach at the end of the 1993 season because of work commitments but was fortunate enough to play and win the 1994 Grand Final.
In 1996, I helped form a new club, the Toronto Dingos. This was to be my final season playing and coaching football.
I broke my thumb badly in the final game of the season and was in a cast for the next 8 weeks. It still bothers me to this day, but that’s the way it goes…
During my time with the fledgling league, I also played and coached Canada in a series of games over a number of years against visiting Australian clubs as well as the UK, both in Toronto and also London.
My football career feels like a distant dream these days. However, football has taken me places and introduced me to many lifelong friends over the course of my life.
This has been an absolute gift!
Most of all I’m grateful and honoured to be inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame and feel proud to be a part of such a special alumni group.
Until next week!