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Steely Scott's journey to the top

Katrina Gill  July 15, 2016 1:33 PM

Thommo 300: Interview Scott Thompson sits down and chats with Channel Crow in the week leading up to his 300th AFL game.
Scott Thompson represented Australia as part of the AIS-AFL Academy Tour in 2000

Scott Thompson represented Australia as part of the AIS-AFL Academy Tour in 2000

‘So, do you think you’ll play 200 games, Scott?’

Scott Thompson decided at age nine that he was going to be an AFL footballer.

That in itself isn’t uncommon. Plenty of kids dream of playing football for a living – of following in the footsteps of their idols and kicking goals on Adelaide Oval like Eddie Betts.

The difference with nine-year-old Scott was that he had a plan to get there. Most of his decisions from then on were based around footy, and improving his chances of being drafted.

“Scott just knew where he was headed,” said Denise Thompson, Scott’s Mum.

Growing up, Scott, older brother Simon and younger sister Lauren were all involved in sport. It was in their genes.

Dad Wayne is a Life Member at Grange Surf Life Saving Club and still rows Masters Surf Boats. Denise competed in basketball, netball, athletics and squash while growing up in Orange, NSW.

Like their parents, the close-knit Thompson kids tried their hands at a number of different sports.

All three followed Wayne into Surf Life Saving and excelled, each selected in State teams. Lauren represented Australia twice in kayaking, while Simon has been overseas to compete in Ski Paddling World Championships.

Scott enjoyed board paddling, but footy remained his first love.

Wayne and Denise would get up at 4:30 some mornings to ‘taxi’ the kids to swimming training. For Simon and Lauren it was part of their chosen sports. For Scott it was ‘extras’.

“Scott basically did it to keep up his fitness for football,” Denise said.

“Everything he did over the summer months was for his footy in the winter.

“Some mornings, Scott didn’t want to swim like the other two, so he’d go for a run instead.”

In winter, it was football full throttle.

Scott started playing for North Haven at the age of eight, and progressed through the ranks.

He also represented his school, St Michael’s College, and was selected in his first development squad at the Port Magpies in Under-15s. The talented midfielder was named in the Under-17 Australian side, South Australia’s Under-18 team and also played Reserves football for the Magpies.

“Scott would play football in the mornings and then football again in the afternoon. That went on for quite a while,” Denise said.

“He excelled at each age group and was in state teams all the way along. He got through to the Australian team in Under-17s and went from there.”

A young Scott Thompson accepts an award while playing for North Haven

The majority of clubs came to speak to Scott and his family ahead of the 2000 AFL National Draft.

Denise remembers then-Crows assistant coach Neil Craig, who was there with former Recruiting Manager James Fantasia, leaning across the kitchen table and asking, ‘So, do you think you’ll play 200 games, Scott?’

Little did Craig know, Scott would go on to play 300 (and hopefully more) AFL games and that he would coach the future All Australian and two-time Crows Club Champion in more than 150 of them.

But it was the Melbourne Football Club that selected Scott with pick No.16 in the 2000 meet.

The teenager was soon on a plane to Victoria and the family, although sad to see Scott leave home, was thrilled all the nights of footy training and early-morning swims had paid off.

He received the No.6 jumper at the Dees. It was the only time in his football career he hadn’t worn the No.5 made famous by his childhood idol, Gary Ablett Senior. The No.5 at Melbourne was owned by David Schwarz, who Scott had a locker next to.

The new draftee moved in with a host family and then with teammate Jeff White, but the Thompsons continued to provide close support.

Between Wayne, Denise, Simon and Lauren, someone was there to watch Scott play almost every weekend during his four years at the Demons, even when he was playing in the VFL.

A police officer at the time, Wayne, and Denise, who also had a full-time job, planned their trips around work commitments.

“We went to Melbourne just about every weekend possible,” Denise said.

“All of us together as a family, if we could, or individually just to be there and support him in all the games whether that was for Melbourne or Sandringham.

“There were times when Wayne would finish night shift and we’d jump on the coach overnight on the Friday. We’d spend the weekend in Melbourne and then get the coach back on Sunday night. Other times, if Wayne had a day shift we’d drive over afterwards.

“The Melbourne Football Club is a wonderful club. It was great getting to know their tradition, and they were very welcoming of us.

“That’s the journey we’ve been on with Scott, meeting all these wonderful people at the clubs.”

Scott enjoyed his time at the Dees and made some life-long friends, including Cam Bruce, Jared Rivers and Steven Armstrong, who he still holidays with semi-regularly today.

But after managing only 39 games in an injury-interrupted four seasons at Melbourne, he was ready for a “fresh start” and thought the best place for that was back in South Australia.

Another meeting at the Thompson kitchen table, this time with Dees coach Neale Daniher, failed to change Scott’s mind and he requested a trade.

Both Adelaide and Port Adelaide – the club he grew up supporting – expressed interest, but the Crows went harder, earlier and a deal was done that saw Thompson arrive at West Lakes in exchange for pick No.12 in the 2004 National Draft.

Even with Scott back in Adelaide, the Thompsons have continued to follow him on the road.

Wayne and Denise have been to Melbourne to watch Adelaide play the past two weekends.

“We get to every home game and as many as we can away as well,” Denise said.

“We’ve been to Perth and make holidays of it when the team plays in Brisbane or on the Gold Coast. There wouldn’t be too many games that we’ve missed over the 299. We love watching the games.

“The kids tell me I get a little bit loud sometimes and Simon tells me to quieten down!”

Simon, 34, and Lauren, 31, are also regulars at games.

During last year’s finals series, a convoy of Thompson cars – one behind the other – made the drive to Melbourne to cheer on Scott and his Crows.

But they haven’t been able to convince all of the extended family to get behind Adelaide.

“Some of the Thompson side of the family are still Port Power supporters,” Denise said.

“We have some good fun rivalry there.

“Wayne’s brother will sit with us at Showdowns and support Scott, but cheer for Port Adelaide!”

The Thompsons are a tight bunch.

Scott, Simon and Lauren, as well as their partners and children, still gather at Wayne and Denise’s home, where the couple has lived for more than 20 years, for a family dinner every week.

In addition this week, Wayne, Simon and a few of Scott’s close mates outside of the Club were invited to dinner with the Crows players in celebration of Scott’s 300th AFL game on Saturday night.

Scott, now a parent himself, understands and appreciates the sacrifices his parents have made across the journey, and the support of his family on the whole.

“I’m very fortunate to have parents who have, one, taken an interest and, two, given me the support that I’ve needed throughout my whole career,” he said.

“Their support has been unbelievable. I’ll certainly enjoy celebrating this occasion with the family.”

Part of that celebration will involve running through the banner with daughter Ava (9) and footy-mad son Harry (five) at Adelaide Oval as the Crows head out to play Collingwood.

“Harry’s actually been talking about this game for a fair while now,” Scott said.

“Every week, he asks, ‘How many weeks, Dad, until your 300th? He’s quite excited. I remember in 2014 in my 250th game against GWS, he ran out and actually felt like staying out there for the warm-up but I had to cut him short!

“It’s great to share it with them.”

Thompson will become only the 75th player in VFL/AFL history to play 300 games.

The 33-year-old is the fifth Crow behind Andrew McLeod, Tyson Edwards, Ben Hart and Mark Ricciuto, who all played their entire careers at Adelaide, to reach the milestone.

“It’s humbling,” Thompson said.

“You look at some of the names of the guys in this footy club that have played 300. They’re all champions of the game and I held them in the highest regard when they played.

“To reach that milestone myself, albeit over two clubs, is something I’ll be proud of when I finish.”

Thompson admits the achievement has required a “huge amount of discipline”.

Even after 16 years in the system he still does extra training, completing a strength session on his day off. His physique now is unrecognisable from the skinny kid running around for North Haven.

The respected figure, who has been a mentor to a number of young players throughout his career, hopes his habits carry on after he eventually does hang up the boots.

“I’d like to walk away leaving some sort of legacy; that I worked hard, got the best out of myself and taught other players good habits, like how to prepare and get yourself up to play each week.”

Wayne, Denise, Simon and Lauren and about 30 family members and close friends will be in the stands to watch Scott run out for the 300th time at Adelaide Oval.

It will be a proud moment and achievement for them all.

“It’s been wonderful to see Scott achieve what he’s wanted to do,” Denise said.

“As a parent, it’s a beautiful thing because that’s all you want for your children – you want them to be happy and to achieve their dreams and goals.

“We’re just so proud of and happy for all of our kids because they’ve gone on and done what they’ve set out to do.”

Scott with Ava and Harry ahead of his 250th AFL game