Jason Akermanis is a three-time premiership player with the Brisbane Lions and also won the 2001 Brownlow Medal.
He was one of the most charismatic footballers of all time, but controversy followed the flamboyant star throughout his long career in the AFL.
The former Lion and Western Bulldog talks to The Inner Sanctum in this five-part series about his remarkable career.
Akermanis took up Australian Rules during life in Victoria, in Mildura before moving to Queensland, a rugby league stronghold, and said it was something he enjoyed from the start.
“My mum was from here in Brisbane, she had me when she lived in Sunraysia, which is near Mildura,” he said.
“Having spent the first nine years there, I played footy quite young at 4 or 5 and played comp from about 6 or 7.
“When I moved up here, not too far from where I am now in the north side of Brisbane, right around the corner from Mayne.
“Mayne was like the biggest club in the QAFL, they had the grand finals there.
“I had bright red hair, back then, being skinny and there was rugby union and league and there were big kids, so I was like ‘stuff this’…I was good at Aussie Rules and basketball and athletics.”
His career would continue to grow, and he trained with the Brisbane Bears in 1994 after playing in the national carnival as an underage player.
“I was 16 playing for Queensland and played in a carnival in the Barossa Valley,” he said.
“The last game was against Western Australia at Footy Park and I was best on ground for the day, and it’s funny you look back, that day and performance, one; I never played bad at Footy Park and two; the Bears at that stage were looking at local talent, they wanted more Queensland kids playing in the state, so there was Michael Voss, myself, Clark Keating and a few others.
“I played against Leo Barry in the Barossa Valley on the wing against New South Wales, he was as big as he was when he played, he was huge.
“He destroyed me.
“Guys like that ended up going into the system.
“I did that whole pre-season in 1994 with the Bears, Nathan Buckley was on the list at that stage and we became good mates.”
After returning to the area recently, Akermanis looked back at his time with mates and how Australian Rules was seen at his school, Nudgee College.
“It was pretty funny when I look back, coming back on August 1st, I can’t tell you how many blokes I went to school with at Nudgee College, who some of were my mates, they reached out and they had gone on to be successful business owners,” he said.
“It was kind of cool and weird at the same time as it was my memory, but at the same time having people at school say ‘GAYFL’, ‘it’s aerial ping pong’, ‘you blokes aren’t tough’, that was just every day.
“There wasn’t a day that went by that didn’t happen, so when I got the call up to the firsts, it was on the back page of the paper.
“That school never played Aussie Rules, when I left they still didn’t and it took years for blokes to get into the AFL.
“They did everything but play Aussie Rules.”
Akermanis would announce himself initially into the AFL limelight as the Bears rose up the ladder in 1996.
He kicked 32 goals as the Bears made the preliminary final for the first time, but off the field, they were going through a remarkable transition.
They would merge with the Fitzroy Lions to become the Brisbane Lions, and Akermanis saw the positives in the merger.
“It wasn’t really that bad, and it was exciting,” he said.
“You’ve gone from the ‘fearsome’ mascot of the Bears, you think about a Koala Bear, he’s sleeping most of the day, eating gum leaves and might have the odd shag, a really ‘fearsome’ animal.
“You think about a lion? I was wrapped.
“I was doing marketing at the time and from a marketing standpoint I thought it was great, let’s get the Lions in, it’ll be awesome.
“Then getting those couple of players was great, Chris Johnson ended up being the only one that survived from Fitzroy out of the eight we had.
“I feel bad for the Fitzroy Football Club, because while they were shitkickers, they were in only $1.2 million of debt.
“When you think about some of the clubs now, the model has changed thankfully to help clubs survived.
“I feel for them, but they got hit, they tried everything the AFL, imagine Melbourne not being there or being with Hawthorn or North Melbourne going to Queensland as they tried many times.
“It was an interesting time, people make stuff about that era all the time, it wasn’t that bad.
“It was good to have the club survived in one way with the Fitzroy Lions and the Bears benefited marketing wise massively.”