At the peak of his significant powers, Tony Lockett offered a beacon of hope to a pair of downtrodden football clubs, first St Kilda, and then the Sydney Swans.
St Kilda wasn't much good when he arrived, but for most of the time he was there, he made wintry afternoons at Moorabbin the place to be.
When Lockett was up and about, marking everything, ragdolling opponents and kicking bags of goals, the Saints were loads of fun to watch, even if the wins were few and far between.
The late Travis Payze, St Kilda president through much of Lockett's time at the club, once estimated that having Lockett and the equally exciting Nicky Winmar in the side guaranteed an extra 6000 fans through the gates at home game and importantly for the generally impoverished club, generated $60,000 in gate receipts every time.
Lockett had all the tools needed to be a champion full-forward. Despite his 100kg-plus build, he was lightning fast over his first five metres and therefore deadly on the lead. Physically imposing, he was impossible to beat in a one-on-one contest and his uncomplicated technique meant he was always a straight and true kick for goal. He booted 117 goals in 1987 and won the Brownlow Medal, becoming the first and only full-forward to do so.
His best season with the Saints was in 1991. He missed the first five games of the season because of a back injury but kicked 12 goals against Adelaide at Moorabbin upon his return. He kicked 10 the next week, 12 the week after that and would end the year with 127 goals. The Saints made the finals that year for the first time in 18 years and Lockett kicked 9.5 in the elimination final against Geelong, nearly winning the game for the Saints off his own boot.
In 1992 he won the Coleman Medal once again, finishing the year with 132 goals, including a bag of 15 against the Swans at Moorabbin. Indeed, Lockett often saved his best for the then-hapless Swans. Two years later at the SCG, he kicked 11 goals in a remarkable game the Swans led by 48 points early in the final term before St Kilda stormed home to win by a point. Earlier that afternoon, Lockett had cannoned through Swans defender Peter Caven, leaving him battered and bloodied.
He was suspended for eight weeks for that incident and he was no stranger to the tribunal, with 16 appearances, nine guilty verdicts and 23 matches lost to suspension over the journey. He was a scary unit.
But the Caven clash was also the tipping point. He was rarely out of the back pages of the Melbourne papers, which was a contributing factor to him becoming, just six months later, a Swans player.
Lockett needed a circuit-breaker and while Richmond and Collingwood courted him hard, the anonymity of Sydney, the complete absence of media scrutiny and the prospect of playing under the legendary Ron Barassi swayed him.
His presence in the red and white proved a fillip for the club and the code. He made the Swans immediately competitive and he brought people back through the gates of the SCG for the first time since the heady days of the Geoff Edelsten era.
The goals kept on coming. He kicked 110 in 1995, his first season with the Swans and which included 16 straight against Fitzroy at the Whitten Oval. The next year featured 121 goals and one famous point – the wobbly drop punt after the final siren in the preliminary final against Essendon that propelled the Swans to their first Grand Final in 51 years. And in 1998, he kicked 109 goals, the sixth and final century haul of his career.
In 1999, in round 10 at the SCG, he kicked nine goals against Collingwood, one of which was his 1300th career goal, which took him past Gordon Coventry as the greatest goalkicker in League history.
He retired at the end of that season, before returning briefly in 2002 for three goals from three games. After that, his retirement became permanent and then the honours followed. Already full-forward in St Kilda’s team of the century, he had the northern end of the Docklands Stadium named in his honour and in 2006, he was inducted into the Australian Football Hall of Fame.
Lockett is quite the reclusive figure, given his football stardom. He lives quietly near Bowral in New South Wales, immersed in family life and training his beloved greyhounds. He appears at the occasional event for both his former clubs and earlier this year gave a rare interview on Melbourne radio station 3AW, sharing his frustration with the current state of goalkicking in the AFL.
It was compelling radio. When the greatest full-forward in the history of the game talks football and discusses his craft, you really ought to listen. And even more so, now that he is officially a Legend of the game.
Clubs: St Kilda/Sydney
Born: March 9, 1966
Recruited from: North Ballarat (Vic)
Playing career: 1983-99, 2002 (St K 1983-94; Syd 1995-99, 2002)
Games: 281 (St K 183; Syd 98)
Goals: 1360 (St K 898; Syd 462)
Player honours: Brownlow Medal 1987; St K best & fairest 1987, 1991; Syd best & fairest 1995; St K 3rd best & fairest 1989, 1992; Coleman Medal 1987 (117), 1991 (127), 1996 (121), 1998 (109); AFL all-time career goalkicking record holder (1360)
St K leading goalkicker 1984-87, 1989-94; Syd leading goalkicker 1995-99; All-Australian 1987, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1998; AFLPA MVP 1987; Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee 2006; St Kilda Hall of Fame inductee 2003, elevated to Legend 2010; St K Team of the Century; Syd Team of the Century; State representative (5 games, 19 goals); EJ Whitten Medal 1995.