THERE haven’t been many better or more durable footballers than Essendon ruckman Simon Madden, who is still contributing strongly long after kicking his last goal. Chief writer RON REED finds out over lunch what keeps him going:
NOBODY has ever done everything there is to do in football, but Simon Madden will suffice until we find somebody who has. The Essendon champion’s CV is so astonishing that the best way he can talk about it in public – to do himself justice without sounding like a big-noter – is to make a joke of it. “I played 378 games, 300 great ones and 78 superb ones – for the first few years I was good, then very, very good and then unbelievable,” he laughs. “That’s because, as all retired footballers know, your ability increases in direct proportion to the number of years you have been out of the game.”
Madden, 61, has never really been “out of” the game since his 19 year career, which began when he was just 16, finally ran out of puff in 1992. He continues to contribute to it — and to the community in general – in a variety of philosophical and entertaining ways, ranging from a seat on the board of directors at his old club to a guitar-toting member of a popular suburban rock band named Better Late Than Never.
Among the least well-known is an embracement of the African term ubuntu which translates as “I am because we are” and speaks to the concept of living harmoniously together. In the business he owns, which specialises in management organisation, and whenever he speaks to young sportsmen, he always stresses the importance of teamwork.
“You don’t win a premiership by yourself, you don’t even come here to have lunch by yourself,” he told guests at the fortnightly Friday lunch hosted by former Carlton ruckman – and one of his old opponents — Percy Jones at the North Fitzroy Arms pub.
“There is the aspirational thing – everybody wants to be successful – but there is this other thing we do which is important, and that’s keeping people together. In a footy team, you win and lose and celebrate and commiserate together.
“You want to be a great individual as a golfer or tennis player, go for it – but it’s much more fun sharing a celebration with a team.
People say my ‘child is not sporty’ but, OK, there’s always a band, a choir or a dance group. Develop a group. It’s about us, not me – that’s the most important thing I got out of sport.”
That said, it came as no surprise to learn that his absolute highlight was winning the 1984 premiership, the “emotion, relief and comfort” of getting it done together outweighing the personal satisfaction of winning the Norm Smith medal for best afield when the Bombers won again the following year.
In both those triumphs, Essendon defeated Hawthorn, which had won in 1982 and went on to play in the 1986-87-88-89 Grand Finals, winning three of them to lay undisputed claim to having been the champion outfit of the decade. “So to beat them twice must have meant we had a pretty handy team,” Madden said.
Those flags were the first two of the four that legendary coach Kevin Sheedy oversaw at Essendon, and not surprisingly Madden is a firm admirer of his old mentor even if he did not always understand what their conversations were all about – or why Sheedy sacked him as captain.
“The thing about Sheeds is that he straddles this line – on one side is insanity and on the other is genius,” Madden laughs, adding that he had conversations in his young days where he would think to himself ‘what’s he talking about?’ and five years later the penny would drop. They had plenty of stand-up shouting matches, he says, but always moved on respecting each other’s passion for the game.
Madden was appointed captain at the age of 21 and held it for three years until Sheedy replaced him with the young Neale Daniher. Looking back, he has no doubt the master coach was correct. “I was still just a kid and had never had any direction and wasn’t as hard a footballer as I should have been. So I have no regrets about that. There are a lot of sacked captains,” he said.
“Sheeds said to me years later, if you were captain now I would never have sacked you. I told him he was probably right because I had matured.”
After a rare visit to the Reserves, Madden gave himself an old-fashioned talking-to. “I realised people here have a different view of my ability than I do,” he said. “So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to win the best and fairest. I had already won one, so I knew what I had to do, so I did it.
“It taught me what I try to explain to young players – that you rely on a lot of other people to help your career, coaches, trainers, physios, but you’re the one in control of your situation.
“It’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. I could have done it the easy way, said it was everyone else’s fault, I’ll just leave and go somewhere else. No, I want to be here and I’m going to make sure I am.”
The closest he got to going somewhere else was in 1985 when the then flamboyant owner of the Sydney Swans, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, offered him $100,000 up front and $450,000 for three years – in today’s values, about three or four million all up. The Bombers couldn’t match that, of course, but Madden says he simply told them: “Well, show me you want me – and they did.
“I knew then that there two amounts of money in football – what you were offered and what you actually got. I knew Essendon had the money they were offering and the doctor didn’t. It was an interesting process to go through.”
It is doubtful if the Bombers have ever had a more accomplished servant than the durable ruckman, one of the best ever to play in that important position..Embed from Getty Images
Only Dustin Fletcher, with 400, has played more games for the club and only Matthew Lloyd, with 926, has kicked more than his 575 goals. He won four best and fairests, one under each of his coaches, Des Tuddenham, Bill Stephen, Barry Davis and Sheedy. He captained Victoria three times as well as Essendon for three years and won the Simpson medal for the best player in an interstate match against WA as well as the Norm Smith, and was runner-up and third in the Brownlow. He was three times all-Australian and is in both the AFL’s and Essendon’s Halls of Fame and Essendon’s team of the century and its “Champions of Essendon” list, in which he is named the club’s fifth-best player ever.
He was president of the AFL Players Association from 1985 until 1989 and has now been an Essendon director for seven years. “I got on the board after all the shit happened,” he says, referring to the infamous supplements scandal, “because I suppose I am an elder of the tribe. The club is in a much better position now but there is still a long way to go. I won’t leave until we win a couple of finals.”
That’s in keeping with his philosophy: It’s not about what I do but what we do.