A chat with The Rat: John Platten

John Platten. Picture: hawthornfc.com.au

Matthew Forest: You started your career at Central District, enjoying immense success in the SANFL. You kicked 259 goals in 113 games, won two best and fairests and a Magarey Medal before moving to Hawthorn. How did your time at Central Districts mould you as a footballer?

John Platten: I suppose growing up in the area and barracking for Centrals as a kid I always wanted to play for Centrals. 

I was born and bred in Elizabeth, and really enjoyed as a kid growing up in Elizabeth going out and watching all my heroes play for Central District. 

To become one of those players in the early 1980s was a dream come true for me. 

MF: Was there ever any hesitation with moving to Victoria to pursue a career in the VFL? 

JP: Nah, not really.

I suppose as a kid growing up in Elizabeth I had a lot of goals I set because it was a pretty hard working class area, we didn’t have much to achieve, and I suppose we were normal kids from a big family of nine and we wanted to do the best we can. 

My goal was always to play for Central District and to play state footy, and once I’ve done that and I’ve played 100 games for Centrals the next goal was to go over in the VFL and play at the highest level for as long as I could. 

MF: You were originally recruited to Carlton, however after a dispute ended up getting drafted to Hawthorn. Can you speak about what happened with that, and if you had a preferred destination at the time?

JP: I was actually drafted by Hawthorn back in 1981, which was my first year of my footy career at Central. 

They saw me in 1980 playing in the Teal Cup for South Australia, when I was playing under 17s, then I was lucky enough to play league footy in 1981 for Centrals and that’s when they contacted me during the 1981 season. 

I signed a form of some kind that said I couldn’t go to any other club except for Hawthorn for three years. 

At the end of those three years, Carlton found out I was a Carlton supporter growing up, and I had just finished winning the Magerey Medal. 

They came over to South Australia and signed up Kernahan, Bradley and Motley, and while they were here we spoke, and we signed an agreement that wasn’t bound by the VFL in those days, that I couldn’t go to another VFL club. 

It was probably the same sort of agreement as Hawthorn’s one back in ’81, but fortunately enough at the end of 1985 I finished with Centrals and wanted to go to Hawthorn, because Leigh Matthews had just retired so there was a pretty big gap there for me to be an on-baller. 

I had a pretty good relationship with Allan Jeans, going right through from 1983, 84, 85, and I told Carlton I didn’t want to play for them. 

It ended up going to court, and Hawthorn won and I became a Hawthorn player. 

MF: You played alongside some legends of the game, such as Jason Dunstall, Robert DiPierdomenico, Dermott Brereton, Michael Tuck and Terry Wallace. Was there a particular player or group of players that you were particularly close to, and what was the culture like there?

JP: The culture was unbelievable. 

They had just finished playing in the last three grand finals. 

The culture was enormous when I got there. 

They always wanted to play finals football and win premierships. 

Unfortunately enough, I didn’t play in a grand final at Central District, so when I stepped in at Hawthorn it was all about playing finals and winning premierships.

That was the culture that was bred into us over the last three or four years, and fortunately enough my first year at Hawthorn was ’86, and we won the premiership. 

We then lost ’87, won ’88, won ’89, and won ’91. I was lucky to play, in my first six years, in five grand finals to win four premierships. 

And that was the culture; you work hard, you play hard, and success will come if you follow those guidelines. 

It was great to be nurtured by a great coach Allan Jeans, then Alan Joyce after him. 

To be in that culture in my first six or seven years was huge. 

It was an honour, a pleasure, to play with some of the guys like Dunstall, Dipper, Brereton, Tuck, Wallace, Ayresy, so many great players who played in those finals back from 1983 right up through 1991. 

It was Dunstall’s first year in ’85, and mine in ’86, and we actually built a house around the corner from each other in Doncaster East when we first got there. 

I’ve become pretty chummy with Dunstall because of that era, and because we lived in the same area. 

Dipper was great, he didn’t live too far away either. 

In saying that, I got on with everyone. 

I’m a happy-go-lucky type of bloke, so it was easy to get along with everyone. 

MF: In just your second season at Hawthorn, you won the Brownlow medal alongside Tony Lockett. How did that achievement compare to other accomplishments in your career?

JP: The Brownlow is something where, at the time, it was an individual medal, but you’re only as good as your teammates you play with, and I played with some enormous players. 

The blokes that you’ve mentioned make you a better player because they were super players as well. 

Premierships are always the number one for me, but winning a Brownlow was very special too. 

I’m part of the Brownlow club; I’m lucky enough to go to the Brownlow every year. 

It’s one of those things that you understand the accomplishment after football, when you’re playing you take it for granted, but after footy you realise “you’ve got a Brownlow Medal, you’ve got a Magarey Medal, you’ve got four premiership medals and are part of the Hall of Fame.” 

So it’s all these little things that are starting to pop up that means so much to me. 

MF: You won four premierships during your time at Hawthorn. Is there a particular premiership that stands out as your favourite?

JP: They’re all different, which is probably something you didn’t want to hear.

They’re all a favourite to me, but they all have a different story to it. 

’86 was my first one, which was my first year at Hawthorn, so it was very exciting. 

It was an honour to be picked, and go and play with Hawthorn, but also to play all the games in ’86 and all the finals, and also to win a premiership, so that was really special. 

In ’88, I thought we were the best side in the competition, we only lost three games, and to be a part of Hawthorn’s first back-to-back premiership side was enormous. 

So that was 1988/89, and I guess the story of ’89 was how tough it was, possibly the toughest grand final ever played.

I got concussed, and Dermett got knocked over in the first five seconds of the game. 

Dipper got a punctured lung, and a few others got concussed as well.

Unfortunately I didn’t get to finish the game, I came off at quarter time because I didn’t know where I was or what I was doing. 

Then in ’91 was the first and last grand final at Footy Park, Waverley Park. 

So they all have a great story to them, and it’s pretty hard to point out one of them. 

I always say I’m a very lucky man to have four premiership medals, and you see some blokes around like Robbie Flower, Lockett and these types of blokes who might’ve played in a final, or a grand final, but never won a premiership. 

So I’m a very lucky bloke. 

MF: As medical technology has improved, so too has the awareness of the impact of concussions. Have you noticed the shift in behaviour surrounding head injuries from your time playing in comparison to now?

JP: I have no qualms about the doctors, but the act that they put you through now compared to what they put you through 20-30 years ago is completely different.

And credit to the AFL, they’ve been under a lot of pressure, but over the last five years you do a proper concussion test, the doctor checks you over, and they determine if you come back on. 

Nine times out of 10 they don’t come back on because of the act, I’m sure they go through a lot of videoing and testing, but when we played if you got hit and you see stars, the doctor asks what day it is, and you keep playing. 

That’s what the issues that we had to face 20 years ago that they’re not facing now. 

MF: After your career at Hawthorn, you returned to Central District. What was it like returning to your SANFL home for that 1998 season? How were you received?

JP: It was great. I didn’t think that I’d come back. 

I wanted to finish my career at Hawthorn and play at the highest level for as long as possible. 

I was fortunate to play 12 years at Hawthorn, and then the opportunity came up at the end of 1997. 

Ken Judge thought I was slowing down a bit and wanted to play me in different positions, but I wasn’t comfortable enough to play in other positions because I felt I still had something to offer through the midfield. 

So we parted ways, and the opportunity to come back and finish my career at Centrals was fantastic. 

I was excited about coming back, bringing my family back home, and come back where I started my career. 

The club was fantastic, the supporters were great, but unfortunately I only managed six games. 

I created bone-on-bone in my knee, and the pain I went through was pretty horrendous, which pretty much ended my career at the age of 35. 

MF: When you were at Hawthorn, was there ever the thought of returning to Central District, or was it always just to play as long as you could in the VFL?

JP: I always wanted to finish at Hawthorn, but sitting down with Kenny Judge at the end of ’97, he had different plans, wanted me to play in the forward pocket. 

But I didn’t want to play in the forward pocket, I had Dunstall, I had Peter Curren, and these types of blokes who played up forward, and I’d be wasted up forward.

There was never a small forward in that era, and Dunstall wouldn’t miss too many opportunities to take a mark or too many goals. 

So I thought it was time to move on because he wanted to play guys like Crawford, Harford and Taylor, who were coming into the fold in the late 90’s.

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