Collingwood defender Tom Langdon’s career has today ended in the same way it began; dignified, no fuss, and full of gratitude.
The no-frills backman has left an everlasting impression at the Collingwood Football Club, and if you speak to any player drafted either alongside him in 2013 or in the years that followed, Langdon’s story is one of persistence and an immeasurable determination that has spurred on and inspired many.
There are parallels to be drawn between Langdon’s premature retirement and his unfortunate 2012 draft night.
Hopeful things would go his way but resigned to the fact it may not end the way he was quite hoping.
It’s funny how the universe works like that.
Football, like life, is beautiful. But it is also cruel and unfair. Langdon at just 26 has seen one side of the coin more than the other.
Langdon initially appeared in junior ranks as a bottom-age player at the Sandringham Dragons in 2011, he was ordinarily average at best, not up to it at worst, and whilst casting such harsh judgements on a 16-year-old who hasn’t fully developed is fraught with danger, there didn’t seem to be anything that made you think he’d make it, even off his cameo appearances.
And while draft coverage was sketchy at best back then and lived only on forums that became sexy for journalists a fortnight out from the draft to be across – Langdon wasn’t exactly a name many had on their top-age watch lists in the preseason of 2012.
He was wirey. Not quite a key defender, but not a small one either.
Good in the air, not bad at ground level, his kicking – ordinary, he was just a general, ordinary prospect whose ceiling at first didn’t appear as high as others.
I myself was only 23 then and working (volunteering) the rounds for TAC Cup Radio as the station’s boundary rider and doing special comments at the main break.
Naturally, you interact with players, get to know them, the coaches, even the players’ parents tap you on the shoulder and introduce themselves.
The NAB AFL Draft that we know today and the bells and whistles that now go along with it in comparison were non-existent back then.
And for many prospects, it perhaps played into their hands.
Still, the Sandringham Dragons had a list they were building to set them up for a premiership tilt in 2013 and 2014.
While Langdon had gotten a taste in 2011 it wouldn’t be until two years later he’d make history for the bayside TAC club.
History would have it that in his eligible year, he’d go overlooked in a draft in which only three of his teammates would be selected.
Understandably, it would have been heart-breaking. Yet it gave Langdon, as well as AFL recruiters to get a look into his resilience, drive, and development.
Ordinary? Maybe. Hungry? Absolutely.
The Dragons extended the invite for Langdon to return as a 19-year-old in 2013 – a rule that has allowed late developers to blossom amongst the best Victorian talent rather than see them shipped off to a hopeful stint at VFL, VAFA or local footy, naturally took his second chance with both hands.
By the end of preseason, he had been elected by his peers to co-captain the club ahead of the 2013 season.
Perhaps what worked in Langdon’s favour was the fact he had no high school football commitments to contend with.
Players listed by the Dragons are only available to play TAC Cup (now NAB League) football in the early and later stages of the year with school representative football taking precedence.
For Langdon, the opportunity to play consistently at the top level saw him develop in leaps and bounds.
Langdon had become more of a well-rounded player.
A beautiful intercept mark with the ability to rebound hard from the back 50. A courageous one-on-one player who had put on strength and size to match the physicality required to play on bigger key forwards.
More than anything, he was a selfless, team-first defender who would always play the percentages; spoil, hold his ground, neutralise the footy – and he never hesitated.
Langdon would impress with his game sense and match-impact so much that he’d earn a call-up to the Sandringham VFL team, impressing in his four senior matches and earning best on ground votes in two of them.
He was ready.
But still, Langdon was no household name.
Not in comparison to teammates Josh Kelly (2), Nathan Freeman (10), Christian Salem (11) and Zach Merrett (26) were already hyped as classy prospects that were certain to have their names called.
And even then, Langdon barely registered a mention when pundits would talk about his younger teammates – Angus Brayshaw (3), Brayden Maynard (30) and seven others who’d be drafted the following year in 2014.
Ahead of the Draft, Langdon opted to sit in his car, alone, and listen on the radio, for only a year earlier he sat with his family only to be confronted with disappointment.
Collingwood read out his name with the 65th selection overall – and even then, he was a speculative pick who may or may not have found a niche for himself at the highest level.
Despite the success of being drafted, he was yet again off-Broadway only minutes later – only this time it was due to Collingwood’s draft hand.
The Pies had two top-10 selections and with them drafted South Australia’s top prospect Matt Scharenberg (6), and Langdon’s star Sandringham teammate Nathan Freeman (10) – the pair seen as major coups for the club.
However, even Langdon himself might spare a thought for the irony of it all.
Scharenberg and Freeman would combine for just 41 games for Collingwood, the latter never registering an appearance.
But as the old saying goes, timing is everything.
As fate would have it, Langdon would debut in Round 1 after a strong preseason after a string of impressive preseason games coupled with a few injuries would pave the way for Langdon to make his AFL debut.
Collingwood who had only two years earlier played off in the 2011 Grand Final had begun to spiral down the ladder, and at the beginning of the 2014 season in which Round 1 is usually full of hope for supporters – Collingwood’s dismal opening game dashed those hopes for its fans.
Yet despite a 70-point drubbing at the hands of Fremantle, Langdon’s 24-disposal game would earn him Collingwood’s best on ground and provide a glimmer of hope for its fanbase.
Not bad for a player once dubbed as ordinary.
If hope was piled on the two top 10 picks who were pegged to set the club up for the next decade, well nobody told Langdon that.
It was typical of his demeanour.
Laid back, no fuss – there was simply a job to be done and he did it.
By the end of a wretched 2014 season for the Magpies, Langdon would unequivocally be bestowed the Harry Collier Trophy as Collingwood’s Best First Year Player.
For a player who’d been overlooked in a draft in 2012 and given a 50/50 chance the following year – this one meant something, particularly when he was just background noise in comparison to his higher-drafted teammates on draft night.
In fact, Langdon would become the quickest player in Collingwood’s history to chalk up 50 games from debut.
Once he was in the side, he never left. And when he left, it was felt. Boy was it felt.
Oh, how much we took those years for granted.
Langdon had imposed himself not just on Collingwood, but on the competition as a quite-achieving yet ruthless backman who was one of the league’s most resourceful and dynamic general defenders.
He boasted a rare ability to play small or tall, in the air or at ground level, in a lockdown or freewheeling role.
It didn’t matter, Langdon was reliable, tough, and loved which is why his premature retirement is all the harder to swallow.
He was the backbone of a defensive rebuild that would lead the charge to the club’s catapult back up the ladder and was painfully a minute or two away from holding the 2018 premiership cup aloft.
Had the results gone Collingwood’s way that day, Langdon’s fairy tale would have been complete, for we would be reminiscing the legacy of Tom Langdon the once-ordinary teenager-turned-Norm Smith Medallist who’s 89-game career has been cut short by a persistent knee injury at just 26 years of age.
For a bloke who rocked a man bun in a time, there weren’t many going around, coupled with his boyish good looks – he flung himself at the footy with reckless abandon so much that you could never accuse him of being a pretty boy.
In fact, if you could accuse him of anything, it was with nervousness that he’d one day do damage to himself.
Collingwood’s premiership chances took a hit when he went down in Round 9, 2019 and little did we know as supporters it would be the last time we’d see him in the black and white jumper.
While he wilfully attempted to overcome the degenerative knee injury he had suffered, after 89 brave games that promised to be so much more – the Langdon name will hold a special place in Collingwood’s history.