Remembering the late Ted Hopkins

Four goal legend: Ted Hopkins is chaired from the ground following his heroics in helping Carlton win the 1970 Grand Final. Photograph supplied




“Get ready Teddy – you’re on.”

CARTLON cult hero and former Moe footballer Ted Hopkins died last week, following a battle with mitochondrial disease. He was 74.

Hopkins is being remembered as the unassuming hero of the Blues 1970 premiership, as well as the man behind AFL statistical conglomerate Champion Data.

Hopkins, who played 32 games for Moe before finding his way to Princes Park, famously came off the bench and kicked four second half goals in the 1970 triumph as Carlton overhauled a 44-point halftime deficit to defeat Collingwood.

Played in front of a still record crowd of 121,696, it would become the very moment Hopkins would be remembered for.

His life changed forever when Carlton coach Ron Barassi (who coincidently only died recently as well) made the bold move to bring the then 21-year-old into the game.

Keeping in mind there was no interchange back then, the decision to have Hopkins come on as 19th man was a huge gamble.

It paid off however, and 10 minutes into the third quarter, Carlton had slammed on four goals, two of which came from Hopkins in the forward pocket.

He added a third a short time later, and a fourth in the final term to see the Blues to a 10-point win for their most famous premiership.

The blonde goal sneak was chaired from the ground for his heroics as Carlton toasted its 10th flag.

Yet, in a dramatic postscript, he was to disappear almost instantly, as he found the adulation afforded to him difficult to handle, and sought to escape his fame by camping in the bush during the off-season.

He played the opening match of 1971 (ironically, again off the bench), but by then had reasoned he had nothing more to achieve and so retired quietly, finishing his playing career with a grand total of 29 games, 10 goals and the wrath of all Collingwood supporters.

What should be remembered however is that Hopkins didn’t just appear out of nowhere and play a blinder on Grand Final day.

He was with the team the whole season, making 20 appearances.

Hopkins came to the Blues for the start of the 1968 season, in what turned out to be another premiership campaign.

Post Carlton, he also spent some time with Yallourn Football Club.

He was not your stereotypical league footballer, and dabbled in areas such as poetry and published fiction.




TED Hopkins and I had close changeroom lockers at Carlton Football Club.

We shared not only the same birth date (May 27), but the rivers of Gippsland flowed in our veins.

The great St Kilda player, Nathan Burke said that “football is what I do, it’s not who I am.” Ted decided early on that football would not define his future. He made that choice deliberately. I had it thrust upon me by accident, but that’s another story.

Even though he had decided not to be defined by football, it could be argued that he played an important role in redefining the game. In 1995, he founded Champion Data, to systematically record AFL match statistics. It went on to revolutionise coaching and how the game has evolved through objective analysis.

Ted and I reconnected 40 years after the 1970 Grand Final stamped its mark on his life.

Inevitably, others wanted to relive their vicarious recollections of that episode. I saw a man accost Ted one day at the Prahran Market to reprimand him for his part in Collingwood’s demise on that day, long before the assailant could have started school.

A few years ago, Ted and I ventured onto Blue Rock Lake on the Tanjil River in one of Ted’s kayaks, not far from his beloved Lake Narracan on the Latrobe River. I was paddling furiously trying to keep pace with him when he announced that my paddling was rubbish, or words to that effect. Never a wise thing to do from the back seat.

His hearing wasn’t good, so my only response was to increase the cadence of my efforts, if not the efficiency. I thought Ted deserved an occasional splash in the face to remind him of his water-skiing exploits.

Back at the boat landing, sans fish and with backsides wet, our attempts to become reunited with Terra Firma didn’t go unnoticed by two young chaps looking like reflections of our erstwhile selves. Certainly nothing like two 60-somethings flailing helplessly in the bilge.

“You need a hand?” One of them asked, before landing me like a gasping carp on the deck.

Ted was grimly holding on with a hand behind his back as Carlton did in the first half all those years before. With the other hand, he waved them away and struggled ashore regardless of the odds against him.

Footballers know the phrase ‘sold the dummy’. It describes a feigned move designed to deceive an opponent into thinking the opposite of what is really intended. Ted’s blog, titled Sold the Dummy was a collection of essays on topics ranging from sport and art to politics and the environment. We often collaborated to highlight issues that governments and authorities would prefer to overlook.

Churchill said, “we shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.” The same can be said of town planning. Yallourn was a marvellous example of how intelligent town planning can profoundly influence the life of communities. Ted’s passion for the Gippsland township of Yallourn was always evident and he wrote extensively on this.

An exhibition at the State Library featured Ted’s insight and talent for seeing things in a wider, if sometimes idiosyncratic perspective. The exhibition focused on the how the Latrobe Valley had literally generated Victoria’s prosperity. Dressed as a briquette, Ted drew attention to the human and environmental costs of destroying the town to win cheap brown coal for electricity generation. Ahead of the pack, he understood the economic externalities associated with so-called ‘development’.

Ted had an old fishing mate in the Western District of Victoria. Both of them lamented the degradation of their favourite angling spot. With my background in agricultural and environmental science in the water industry, I had the privilege of working with Ted to identify how this had come about. His interest in the big picture soon had me doing more useful things in retirement.

As one of his former opponents in the Latrobe Valley Football League and having arrived at Carlton from Traralgon a year ahead of him, I was asked to help attract Ted to Princes Park.

That didn’t happen, but I don’t think my influence would have had much effect in any case.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the generosity of an Italian-Australian shoe shop owner in Lygon Street, I wouldn’t have had proper training footwear, let alone the money to shout Ted lunch.

Much later, we could afford to laugh at that over lunch while discussing his latest scheme to promote renewable energy.

Ted once wrote this to me: “Over the journey I’ve begun to appreciate more the role of serendipity and our capacity to grasp the opportunities falling from the sky.”

Vale, Ted Hopkins.

About the author: Max Thomas is a former Traralgon resident currently living in Yarragon. He played two games for Carlton in 1966.