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Jacob Surjan talks footy, life and 19th man saga

After growing up in Western Australia, Jacob Surjan was admired for his courage, tenacity and his bravery during his career in Port Adelaide. Now a reserves premiership coach with North Adelaide in the SANFL, he took some time to go One on One with Jack Hudson.

PHOTO: Jack Hudson.

Jack Hudson: What was life like growing up in Western Australia?

Jacob Surjan: It was a great place to live, just outside of Fremantle in a place called Coogee.

It was a humble upbringing really; mum and dad were Yugoslavian immigrants who came across on a boat in the 1960s to try and get away a war-torn country back then.

They’re humble market gardeners with carrots, potatoes all that sort of stuff, so for me it always felt like I was a country kid growing up in the metro zone.

Mum and dad were hard-working parents who have a big emphasis on family values.

It was a really great place to live with three brothers, grandparents who were right next door and my aunty and uncle on the other side.

It was unreal to be honest, it was pretty exciting but pretty daunting when I got to move out for the first time as a 17, 18-year-old to move to a new state.

But that’s what you have to do when you want to chase your dream, and fortunately enough I was able to do that.

JH: What do you remember about your junior footy?

JS: I only started playing footy when I was 13, and it was basically just to continue on friendships with guys from primary school, we were moving onto high school – I was going to CBC in Fremantle and they were going to Hamilton Senior High.

I had no idea about footy coming from a Yugoslavian family background and dad played soccer in WA, and we did little athletics as kids and didn’t have much interest in footy.

But for some reason when I got out on the park it seemed natural, and it sort of just progressed from there.

I won the best and fairest in my first year and we had an undefeated premiership team, under 14 was the same except we lost the grand final.

Then I progressed up the ranks at South Fremantle and fortunate enough to get drafted to Port along my journey.

It was never really my thing, I was into basketball and athletics and it was just a thing to hang around with mates after school.

The Surjan boys – Erik, Jacob and dad Mario. PHOTO: Twitter

JH: You were a national athletics champion, weren’t you?

JS: Yeah, I won a national championship in long jump in either under 16s or 17s.

At that age I had to decide I couldn’t train footy and then athletics in the one week, it was getting too much, especially as a 15-year-old and no licence.

At under 16s I said that was enough with athletics and once I made the state teams with footy I thought it’s more my passion and my love and I’d have a crack with that.

The way I played and the way I went about my footy had a lot to do with my athletics background with speed, power and even the endurance side, so I’m very grateful for the lessons and the education that athletics gave me to transfer into footy.

JH: You made your WAFL debut at 17 years of age, what was it like?

JS: It was an interest night actually, it was South Fremantle versus East Fremantle which is like Norwood versus Port in South Australia, probably worse.

Just for the fact that both South and East Fremantle were the one club, which was the Fremantle Football Club, but then had a divide and split, and there’s just been hatred ever since.

It was a remarkable night I played on Phil Read, who was on West Coast’s list at the time and was coming back from a knee reconstruction.

I was a 17-year-old kid who thought he could play football and I definitely got a football education that night, he was a superb athlete with speed and endurance.

I remember the one thing I had on him though, I kicked the first goal of the game and the president had me for first goal (of the game) and he won some money, which was good.

There were 15,000 people at Fremantle Oval, that’s how big they are, I’m not sure how big the crowds are now.

It was a Friday night game, it’s still one of the highlights of my career, it was a dream come true.

I remember the guys at South Fremantle asking for my bank details and I was like ‘what for?’ and they said, ‘you’ve got to get paid, you played league football.’

I was like, I get paid to do this? It was remarkable.

I was very fortunate, I owe a lot to South Fremantle, I’m still a massive supporter, I still follow them online and talk to the guys.

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Jack grew up in Gawler, South Australia – just 45 minutes north of Adelaide – and has a passion for all things football and soccer. Jack has worked in the media for more than four years, and hosts his own sports show on Barossa radio station BBBfm. He previously played football for Elizabeth, South Gawler, Gawler Central and at junior level with Central District, and is a die-hard Port Adelaide fan.