Thirty-nine years ago, in April 1978, Tony Morwood was sitting in the back carriage of a Melbourne train going from Noble Park to the city and his job in the accounts department of an insurance company. He was 17.
It was the smoking carriage of what he labelled ‘the old red rattler’, and to help pass the time, while sucking on a ‘dart’, he picked up the Herald Sun.
There on the back page, as was normal practice back then, were the teams for the following Saturday’s round of football. And with that Morwood nearly dropped his smoke and fell off his seat.
“South Melbourne were playing Hawthorn at Lake Oval and there it was in black and white … out so and so, in Morwood. I couldn’t believe it. Nobody had told me,” he recalled.
It was a moment he will never forget, and a pointer to how much things have changed since a time when, as he said, most players were smokers.
It was Round 2. Morwood, had played in the Reserves the week before when the seniors had been beaten by Essendon, and although thinking privately he hadn’t played particularly well he was selected for his AFL debut.
On Saturday 8 April 1978, the stripling youngster became the 1057th South Melbourne player, beginning one of the great Swans careers.
Chosen 25 years later in the club’s Team of the Century, Morwood was opposed on debut to a “chubby young guy” from Hawthorn playing his third game. Robert Dipierdomenico.
Morwood, injected into the action in the second quarter after starting on the bench, took six marks, had nine disposals and kicked one goal three behinds while ‘Dipper’, who went on to play 240 games for the Hawks and win five premierships and the 1986 Brownlow Medal, had 15 disposals.
Graham Fox debuted for the Swans on the same day, while Bernie Evans and Max James played their second game, and Michael Smith his third.
Mick McCarthy debuted for Hawthorn and Terry Wallace played his second game as the Hawks won by 28 points on their way to the ’78 premiership.
It was the first year of interchange after the abolition of the old 19th and 20th man rules, and in 15 games in his first season the lightly-framed but brilliantly skilful Morwood started on the bench 11 times.
At 17 years and 326 days Morwood became the 10th youngest Swans player all-time.
He now sits 12th on the recorded list, having been pushed down two spots by Anthony Rocca in 1995 and Mark Kinnear in 1997
Morwood was in his second year at South when he made his debut. He’d played two games in the Reserves early in 1977 before succumbing to back problems, and being ordered to take three months off.
When it became evident the club still thought he wasn’t ready for senior football he’d returned to his junior club, Noble Park, and played in the U18s grand final.
On his return to South in 1978 Morwood fell under the guidance of former Collingwood and Essendon champion Des Tuddenham, who coached the Swans for 12 months in between the two South Melbourne coaching stints of triple Brownlow Medalist Ian Stewart in 1976-77 and 1979-81.
He was the second of three Morwood brothers to play for South, joining the club after older brother Paul and before younger brother Shane.
In total the trio played 307 games in red and white in careers which amassed a combined 611 AFL games and took Paul to St.Kilda and Collingwood, and Shane to Collingwood.
Thirteen times in 1981-82 the three brothers played together in the same senior team before they were split up by the club’s move to Sydney in 1983. Paul and Shane went elsewhere to stay in Melbourne while Tony happily joined the pilgrimage to the Harbour City.
“I really didn’t have any ties to Melbourne other than family and I had the opportunity to relocate my job,” he explained, working at the time for Just Jeans, owned by former South chairman Craig Kimberley.
“I was really supportive of the group staying together and I believed we had more chance of success in Sydney … it was certainly better to go than stay in Melbourne and be closed down.
“It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. I was ready for a change and it was great for the club.”
Morwood went on to play 229 games for the Swans to rank 16th on the all-time list.
His 397 goals ranks sixth-highest for the club and puts him in truly elite company behind only Bob Pratt (681), Michael O’Loughlin (521), Barry Hall (467), Adam Goodes (464), Tony Lockett (462) and Bob Skilton (412).
He was the club’s leading goal-kicker in 1979 and 1982, second to John Roberts in 1980, second to Warwick Capper in 1986-87, and third three times.
He finished no worse than fifth in Swans goal-kicking 10 years in a row from 1979-88.
Named alongside Laurie Nash and Gerard Healy on the half forward line in the Team of the Century, Morwood kicked a career-high season tally of 56 goals in 1979 in his first full season, and a single-game career-high of eight in the same year – against Melbourne at the MCG – in just his 19th game.
All these years on he is still a huge part of the Swans family. Morwood now runs the club’s Melbourne office, where he oversees membership, merchandise, marketing and events, and heads up the all-important Sydney Swans Foundation, which raises key funds for special projects.