PETER McKENNA and Eddie McGuire have long shared a passion for the Magpies, but there was a time when both supported one of Collingwood’s mortal foes. LAWRENCE MONEY explains how they both ended up at Victoria Park:
YEARS AGO, Peter McKenna caddied for one of his three sporting heroes, cricketer Viv Richards, at Green Acres golf course in Kew. “Hit the ball out of sight,” says Peter who still remembers the words the West Indian wonder said to him when Peter had to return to work after six holes: “Peter, you have a wonderful life.”
Well, Peter McKenna, champion forward for the Magpies in the 1960s and 70s, is doing just that. He turns 71 this month, is in good physical shape, still enjoying a long and happy marriage to Marita, mother of their two daughters, and is now a grandfather.
Peter’s two other all-time sporting idols are former Test captain Bill Lawry, whom he got to know “really well”, and American golfer Jordan Spieth. “I have never met Jordan but I love him with a passion. He’s not up himself, so modest, he sometimes picks up his bag to help the caddy.”
Of course, Peter McKenna, one of footy’s most modest men, is himself a hero to many people. Years ago, a very young Eddie McGuire was an Essendon fan – until he went to a game where McKenna kicked nine goals. Eddie went home and demanded a Collingwood jumper with “that man’s number on the back.” His parents took him to Northland, bought a jumper and a plastic number 6.
In fact, McKenna was also an Essendon fan as a kid before joining the Pies as a player. Not only was he a football idol, he became a pin-up pop singer with two singles (Things to Remember and Smile) – and he had a part-time TV career. “Originally I was co-host of Hey Hey It’s Saturday with Daryl Somers on Saturday mornings until I played an absolute shocker one afternoon and the club said I had to give the show away. I was replaced on the show by a stuffed ostrich. The following week I kicked 11 straight against North Melbourne’s David Dench. They said: ‘We told you so!’”
Peter wears two hearing aids these days. After using a single $3,000 aid for 10 years he took the advice of former Hawk Russell Greene and bought two for $2,000 at the Costco store near the Melbourne Star wheel. “They’re perfect.” Hearing problems run in the family, according to Peter. “My father, mother, brother and sister all wore two hearing aids,” he says, “but I didn’t wear any when I was younger. Now I suspect I have been slightly deaf all my life.”
Peter McKenna has one of the most illustrious records in VFL/AFL history. He was leading goalkicker for the Pies from 1967 to 1974 and was fourth on the all-time goal-kicking table at the time he retired. He kicked 874 goals 470 behinds (including 36 goals with Carlton in 1977) and is still ahead of Buddy Franklin (so far, 843 goals 609 behinds) with considerably more accuracy.
He kicked at least one goal in 121 consecutive matches. His highest return was 16 goals in a round 19 win against South Melbourne in 1969. Over his entire playing career, he averaged 4.6 goals a game.
And there’s another accolade: he is to date the only dual winner of my Boot In Mouth Award, snaring that honour in 1985 (“Cordner! He had his name written all over the Sherrin, the late Tommy Sherrin.”) after winning the 1982 Boot with a comment about a Carlton star who kicked well with either foot: “After all, Bobby Skilton was amphibious.” All these years later he confesses that – as I often suspected with many commentators – some of his more comical gaffes were deliberate.
“I called my first game down at Geelong for Channel Seven in 1979,” he recalls. “The other commentator was Doug Wade so you had two former full-forwards calling the game. In those days, the commentary box was down at ground level. It was a wet day so all the blond players’ hair turned dark, both teams were blue and white, it was a nightmare for my first game.”
Doug Wade won the inaugural Boot In Mouth award in 1980 (“The Ablett brothers are hard to tell apart – although one has a beard.”) and Doug’s mounted right Puma now forms the BIM trophy.
“Good bloke, Doug,” says Peter. “I loved doing the commentary.” He finished in 2001 when pay TV began its move into AFL coverage.
Dwayne Russell (2017): “Melbourne and St Kilda, exciting times. Both teams can make the eight but both teams can’t make the eight.”
Bruce McAvaney (2017): “He’s the sort of bloke you had to see him play to know how good he was.”
Jonathan Brown (2017): “That’s a great 50. It’s about 60 I reckon.”
Basil Zempilas (2017): “Here’s Rory Sloane, going the wrong way to go the right way, you get the idea.”
Rex Hunt (3DB, 1984): “There’s Billy Picken with his socks down and his teeth hanging out.”
Scot Palmer (1984): “Allan Montgomery has been reported for hitting a lion on the head.”
Lawrence Money has twice been named Victoria's best newspaper columnist by the Melbourne Press Club. He wrote columns for 37 years on the Melbourne Herald, Sunday Age and daily Age -- and in Royalauto and Your Sport magazines -- before retiring in 2016 after a 50-year career in journalism.
He still treads the speaking circuit, does radio gigs, tweets on @lozzacash and chases a long-gone 13 golf handicap. He clings to the eternal hope that the Melbourne Demons will once again win a flag.