Russell Ebert: The man Port fans call ‘God’
Russell Ebert is often recognised as the best player to ever pull on a Port Adelaide Football Club jumper. The four-time Magarey Medallist went One on One with Jack Hudson to talk about his career.
Jack Hudson: Take us back to the start, you were one of six kids growing up in Berri, what was your childhood like?
Russell Ebert: Fantastic childhood, it was a typical country family, my parents were on the land either a fruit block or a farm.
I never had a lot but had everything as far as family, brothers and a sister to grow up with.
I did country schooling and then I was fortunate enough to get a job in the country, and play all sorts of sports.
I lived on the river, so we had the water sports, basketball, tennis, footy, cricket, every sport you could play.
Just what I would consider the perfect childhood with great parents who were hardworking, and taught us a lot of terrific life skills lessons.
JH: When was the first time you encountered footy – through your dad?
RE: Yeah, dad coached the local team and mum coached the netball, so it was a real sporting family.
I loved the community, and if you didn’t get involved with the community then you missed out on the connection…but you sometimes couldn’t fill a team.
You often fielded out of your age group, whether it was tennis, netball, cricket, basketball or footy.
We tended to fill the teams as often as we could, that was the first association (with footy) was going along to watch dad play and coach, and mum play and coach netball.
I also watched my brothers, two were older and two were younger, and my sister, and watch them play their sport and have fun and make lots of friends doing it.
JH: You mentioned those sports, how many of those did you play?
RE: All of them.
I like cricket, I played country cricket, but everything.
Then coming to Adelaide, I threw in squash and a few other sports, so very active.
JH: You played your juniors with Loxton Football Club, what was it like?
RE: It was a very successful club, all the local heroes played there.
Some of them had played league football, so they had a real status in the town.
They all had businesses or were on the land, so I knew they were hardworking and then to go down and watch them play, they were our idols and heroes.
To play junior colts and senior colts was just a huge thrill to be at such a family based, well-run, well-supported successful club.
JH: In 1968 you walked through the doors at Port Adelaide for the first time, what was it like?
RE: Once again, I had the benefit of living in the country, but driving down one night a week to train and then to play.
The transition was fantastic, my parents had moved down to the city because my father was ill, so they moved off the land and came down to the city.
I was just, once again, really blessed, because we had a couple of players in Waikerie at the time, who were playing for Port Adelaide and North Adelaide.
To be able to play other sports with them and knock around with them, made the transition to Adelaide and Port Adelaide just so comfortable.
The club was really accommodating, they were already successful, they’d won premierships and played in grand finals.
The players were very similar to the ones back in a country town, they all had jobs, they all worked hard, a lot of them had young families as it was a pretty experienced team that I was fortunate enough to come into in 1968.
They had children, businesses and lifestyles that we were very comfortable with.
JH: You were the leading goal-kicker in that first season, did you ever think that would happen?
RE: No, I hadn’t played full forward too often in my junior grades.
From memory I was reasonably small, I played wing and rover.
I came down here and there was an opening, Eric Freeman had been selected in the Australian Test side to play cricket and to tour England, so he’d been the full forward.
Fos (Williams) asked me if I’d ever played up there, and I thought, gee if I say yes, I might have a chance.
I said “yeah, I’ve been around the goals in a few games.”
I went there, and as I said I was fortunate to play in a really good team which only had a couple of youngsters in there.
To have 10 or 11 premiership players, and then good experienced players around you, they sort of nurtured you and helped you on the ground, and almost told you where to run and gave you the ball.
That was just a wonderful transition to country football to league to come into a successful, strong, disciplined, hard club with good people, and we were all very, very comfortable here.
JH: What was it like playing under Fos?
RE: He was tough, he was hard, but he was very fair.
He was an educated man, I think he probably suffered white line fever from watching vision of when he played.
When he coached, when he addressed you and when he got involved in training, you could still see, even though he was way past his best playing days, just what sort of a player and what sort of a man he was, and we had the benefit of all those things wrapped up in one.
With Bob McLean off the field, it was just a wonderfully professional club in probably a semi-amateur environment.
JH: You won your first Magarey Medal a few years later, did you have a favourite year in which you won the Magarey?
RE: No, not really.
I started off in the forward line, and then I was fortunate enough to move up to the midfield, which I really enjoyed because you had a bit more freedom and you didn’t have like Ron Ellaway, Tracy Braidwood or Adrian Sutter punching the back of your head at full forward, so it was good to get away from that in a nice way.
Moved into the centre and I had some fantastic players around me that helped the transition into that position, like John Cahill, Jeff Potter, Keith Spencer, Kevin Salmon, and a little bit later on Brian Cunningham and Darrell Cahill.
Along with rucks like Paul Marrett, Leon Milde, I grew up and they both came from the country, so we were good mates and they were part of the midfield too.
To play in the centre at this club was certainly a privilege.