David Ackerly
138 games
12 goals
Best and Fairest 1980, 1982
All-Australian 1982, 1984


David Ackerly's outstanding career in red and white was almost over before it began. After playing with South Melbourne's Under 19s in 1977 and reserves in 1978, club officials told Ackerly they didn't think he'd make the grade and should return to his senior club.

Fortunately for Swans supporters, Ackerely didn't have a senior club to return to. He began his football journey with the Altona-North Brooklyn Youth team—a junior club—so he asked if he could continue playing with the Swans' Under 19s. He did, and he credits the influence of his coaches, fellow Swans Hall of Famer John Heriot, Alan Findlay and South senior player Francis Jackson, as highly influential in his development.

Almost resigned to the fact his football career at the top level wouldn't eventuate, he poured his efforts into the Physical Education degree he'd commenced at Rusden College. Attending lectures meant he'd arrive at training some nights when they'd already switched the lights off. Incredibly, Ackerly's dedication to his studies would save his football career.

One night during the winter of 1979, two hours after training had been completed, Swans' coach Ian Stewart and captain Rick Quade were reviewing the club's playing list. To their great surprise, clunking noises emanated from the gymnasium, and when they investigated, they found the 18-year-old Ackerly lifting weights on his own.

That moment left an impression, and Stewart persevered with the young wingman. The coach swung the selection axe ahead of the Round 10 match with Essendon, dropping star trio John Murphy, Len Thompson and Max James. Suddenly, Ackerly, a Bombers supporter as a kid, lined up on the wing ahead of his debut match at Windy Hill.

"I just went reasonable," Ackerly later said. "But the club had a policy at that time that a young player would be given a couple of games if selected in the firsts before he was dropped. Somehow, I stayed in the team, although by the end of the year, I was in the back pocket."

Moving Ackerly into defence proved an inspired move. After playing 11 games in his debut season, he performed with skill and composure beyond his tender years throughout the 1980 season. As a back-pocket, his close-checking style made life tough for any rover resting in the forward line, and his ability to read the play came to the fore.

The Swans finished sixth in a much-improved season, and at just 19 years, 308 days old, Ackerly became the youngest-ever winner of the club's best and fairest, usurping the great Bob Skilton by 18 days. Incredibly, Ackerly had played just 33 games of League football.

Then, in 1981, reports emerged that the Swans were investigating a relocation to Sydney. The move was more than just a geographical shift; it represented a poignant moment of transition, reshaping the fabric of the sport in ways few events have. Many were affected, with emotions ranging from despair and loss to anticipation and hope.

The players, led by Barry Round, Mark Browning, and Francis Jackson, mostly believed the club's future lay in Sydney. "I don't think it can be underestimated," Ackerly recalled. "The move from South Melbourne to Sydney laid the foundation for what is currently the AFL. And, all the players that were part of that can take great pride that we helped establish the club that we have today and, indeed, the competition that we have today."

"Trendsetting and base-building was what it was all about, and it was really challenging, but at the same time, it was a great adventure. It was a wonderful part of my life, and would I do it all again? Absolutely."

Ackerly played in the Swans' final match at the Lake Oval in 1981 and the club's first home match at the SCG in 1982. The playing group remained in Melbourne that year, flying in and out of Sydney for 11 home matches. Significantly, they also won the Night Premiership, defeating North Melbourne by 32 points in the '82 Escort Cup final.

Following the win, The Age journalist and long-time Swans supporter Mike Coward wrote, "It was a triumph for coach Ricky Quade and his young team. The start of the year saw the club in turmoil and suggestions that it would even disband."

These pioneers showed tremendous courage and fortitude under incredibly trying circumstances, and Ackerly played another significant season in the backline, winning his second Swans' best and fairest at 21.

In a Daily Telegraph feature ahead of Ackerly's 100th match, Swans coach Rick Quade highlighted his determination. "Thank god he hung in there and persevered. It was all his own doing. David was the one who wanted to keep on with the club. That he then won the club's best and fairest twice by the age of 21 is his own reference."

Ackerly earned Victorian state selection in July and was subsequently selected for the 1982 All-Australian team. His speed and slick ball use from the backline set him apart from other back-pocket players, and he was now regarded as one of the best defensive players in the VFL. 

In 1983, Swans players and staff relocated to Sydney on a full-time basis. Understandably, this created additional challenges, and months into the relocation process, in the May edition of Swan News, CEO Brian Dixon wrote to members and supporters requesting assistance to gain employment for a group of players, including Ackerly.

In a tumultuous start to life in the Harbour City, Ackerly had electrical equipment stolen from his flat, as a group of Swans players and officials also experienced burglaries. Eventually, things settled, and when he began teaching at De La Salle College in Marrickville, the puzzle pieces started falling into place.

On a club level, the 1984 season was one of further disturbance as the Swans players adjusted to three separate coaches throughout the year. But, again, Ackerly displayed imperious form throughout, earning selection in the Victorian team and the All-Australian squad to tour Ireland, playing in a 'compromised rules' series, now recognised as the first three-match International Rules series between the two countries.

In September, The Herald announced Ackerly as the winner of the Most Courageous Victorian Football League player award. The award, voted on by members of the VFL Players' Association, was highly prestigious and included a much-welcomed $2,000 prize donated by the newspaper.

Unfortunately, player payments were either late or non-existent, which was a common theme for Swans players. When private ownership arrived at the club, Ackerly was among a group of loyal servants not overly enamoured by the new direction. Sadly, a falling out with club administration led to his departure after 138 games, and he joined North Melbourne ahead of the 1986 season.

Ackerly’s impact at the Swans is perhaps best surmised by Rick Quade: "He is a coach's dream. He works so hard at his game even though he has mastered practically all facets."

"If he does have a bad game, you can bet he will go well the next week. He has that pride necessary in a player if he is to be a success. And he has the respect of his peers. What higher acclaim can you get?"

In 2019, Ackerly's superb contribution was recognised with his induction into the Swans Hall of Fame. Speaking on the night, he said, "I'm overwhelmed by it all, to be honest. I'm so proud to be even considered, and words are really difficult for me at the moment; I'm just terribly, terribly proud."