15/04/2024

A jubilant Tasmanian team celebrate a win over Victoria in June, 1990 - Photo: The Mercury

Speaking in a manner that exudes a certain kind of wisdom, those that hear Steve MacPherson talk could aptly describe him as a true elder statesman of the football world. The type of ex-player that draws a listener in with ideas that hit home, often delivered in a gentle, calm tone.

There is a surety to his words, undoubtedly influenced by a diverse range of experiences, both on and off the field. Events that saw a footy-crazed Tasmanian teenager blossom into the man known to many as ‘Supa’, Footscray’s hard-nosed, blue-collar cult hero.

The result of such a journey has been the accumulation of everlasting memories, moments that have lived on long after he kicked his last Sherrin.

Yet, there is one recollection that sticks out within the greater mental scrapbook – the feeling of adulation when presented with the Tasmanian jumper.

Whether it be at junior level, in the lead-up to the historic victory over Victoria in 1990, or as vice-captain in 1993, the sense of honour remained.

While it might seem to most that he had simply been given a uniform, to MacPherson, he had been entrusted with the iconic ‘Map’ guernsey and all of the values attached.

“It was huge. As a kid, when I was selected in-state teams from under 14s, under 15s, you feel almost like you grow in that jumper,” he told The Inner Sanctum.

“I suppose it’s like a weird feeling. Not that you necessarily feel pressure with it, but you feel a sense of pride.

“I used to watch it and go ‘How good is it?’ There were some big names, but then there were also a lot of names that you don’t know as well, but when they’re out there in that jumper they’re superstars.

“It empowers you in some ways.”

Now, MacPherson believes that a new generation of Apple Isle youth can be inspired by wearing the famed emerald green, gold, and crimson.

Tasmania is set to return to the national stage for the first time since the 1993 State of Origin series, following the AFL’s May 3 announcement that the state will be granted a licence to join the competition in 2028.

With this, a new wave of on-field heroes, catch cries, and emblems are set to capture imaginations throughout the island. Not too dissimilar to the way that the local heroes of ‘Supa’s formative years impressed upon him.

In his eyes then, the development of the side could hold a vital place in the aspirations of young people going forward.

“There’s no doubt it’s one important piece of the puzzle, to get kids back involved in some positive activity,” MacPherson said.

“It’s easy for them to be involved with the online stuff, but if it’s there and they can touch it, it’s highly likely they’re going to aspire to go down that path. 

“Michael Roach was over at Richmond when I was a kid, Royce Hart was probably still playing when I was a bit younger. 

“I remember how great it was that Peter Hudson, even though he was coming back from injury, came back and played for Glenorchy.

“Just to see that in some ways, you know it’s possible.”

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In fact, the notion of hope is central to this mantra.

More than just providing a set of stars to emulate, MacPherson sees a genuine avenue to the sport’s elite level that can now be explored.

Unlike his own journey, one that saw him sign with and move to Footscray as a 16-year-old on the back of a dominant showing at the 1980 national under 15s carnival in Darwin, the pathway is one covered in grassroots to walk on, not murky waters that require crossing.

Recognising one’s potential then, a concept often inhibited by Tasmania’s isolation, may not be such an unconquerable challenge.

“They’ve (now) got the role models on their doorstep,” ‘Supa’ imparted.

“They’re there, you can see them, you can learn from them or just get motivated by the fact that these are people from your state that are doing such really inspiring things. 

“It is about giving people hope. Sometimes that might be hard to see when people don’t feel like they can necessarily get out of somewhere.

“I love the place. It was the best place in the world to grow up as a kid and I moved over to follow a career in footy.

“I think now we’ve got kids who’ll have the opportunity to actually stay there and carve out a rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable life in Tasmania.

“To have it there, it makes the transition a lot easier. It should increase the idea that kids have got a real opportunity in sport.”

Despite the telling of such insights, there is an almost child-like gleam of exhilaration in ‘Supa’s voice when speaking about Tasmanian football and its future.

Perhaps this is owed to the parochial sentiment that he associates with his homeland. Maybe it’s the dreams of the young man that routinely turned up to watch the battles of Glenorchy and Clarence during the 1970s.

It could even be the inner custodian of the ‘Map’ jumper, paying respects to and preserving the traditions of the game.

In any case, MacPherson does not doubt that football in Tasmania, despite a noted decline over the past 20 years, can regenerate with the advent of the new franchise.

“It’s so good to see the state get back to the opportunity to re-establish itself as a football state again,” he concluded.

“I do think that there’ll be a real ownership of the team. It’s a little bit different to starting up on the Gold Coast, where you’re trying to establish a team in a non-traditional football state.

“Every good team has to have a bit of a soul and there’s no doubt that if you’re playing in a state like Tasmania, it’s going to give it that. That sense of more than just a footy team.

“The bottom line is, the state is a football state. It’s got an unbelievable history of footballers coming out of Tasmania and staying in Tasmania as well. 

“I’m really excited about it.”

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