Geelong’s Sam Simpson has never played a game of football wearing his socks down.
His father Sean, who played 121 games in the blue and white hoops between 1988 and 1998, was renowned for doing the same.
“My old man used to wear his socks up back in the day which was a bit more of a common thing back then,” Simpson told aflplayers.com.au.
“I played soccer before I played footy so I sort of got used to having my socks up then and then when I started (playing footy) Dad just said to me to wear my socks up, and that ‘it looks good’ and I haven’t gone a game with them down since.”
The mentality of pulling his socks up and getting back to work was not lost on the 22-year-old as he had to fight hard to regain his spot in Geelong’s finals side following a hamstring injury which brought a pause to his impressive season in round 12.
Prior to the injury, Simpson had entrenched himself in Geelong’s best 22 with his career-best 27 disposal game against Brisbane in round seven, his first of the year, underlining his desire to seize the opportunity when it presented.
“I was just really determined to prove myself at that level and play my role first and foremost, and then I was lucky enough to get a bit of the footy the way the game unfolded and it worked out for me,” Simpson said.
Simpson returned to the Cats’ line-up in last Saturday night’s semi-final win over Collingwood at the Gabba after playing in a scratch match against a team made up of Richmond and Port Adelaide players the week prior.
That he did so after only playing six games at AFL level this season up until that point, and just six in total between 2017 and 2019, highlights the faith the coaching staff have in him to come into the team and play his role.
Despite not playing a game at AFL level last year, Simpson won the Cats’ VFL best and fairest award and was close to selection on numerous occasions.
“I was getting some good feedback from the coaches, but I just couldn’t quite break into the team. So you know, I was pretty determined to get in there this year,” he said.
“With the year that we’ve had and short turnarounds it’s probably helped someone like me break in and get that opportunity. That was all I was after and to come in and play my role for the team.”
The Cats’ youngster collected 16 disposals, set up a goal and had four tackles in the 68-point win against Collingwood, but most importantly he was clean and composed playing across half-forward and on the wing.
According to the AFL’s StatsPro, Simpson rates elite for handballs per game, stoppage clearances, contested possessions, intercept possessions and groundball gets.
“There was that little bit of relief that yeah, ‘I’m back from that injury, finally!'” Simpson said.
“I think when you’re looking at finals we know it’s built on fundamentals and winning one-on-one contests. I was just lucky to get a couple of opportunities to win the ball and you get some wins and some draws against your opponents and it was all part of the contest.”
Getting back from the hamstring injury proved more difficult than he was expecting initially when he suffered a setback during a training session during the latter stages of his rehab when he had an “awkward movement” in a drill delaying his return even further.
“It was a bit of a shock to be honest, because I’d never had any hamstring problems before,” Simpson said reflecting on the injury.
“I just had the goal of making it back for finals and I knew there was time so it was up to me to be playing well enough to get that opportunity.”
Simpson took it upon himself to work with the Geelong physios to ensure his rehabilitation was done correctly, including plenty of leg weights to strengthen his quads and hamstrings as well as numerous recovery sessions at Rigs Recovery Centre – the facility the Cats’ players have had access to during their time in the Queensland hub.
“I reckon the physios here would have been getting pretty sick of me,” Simpson said with a laugh.
“I was annoying them every day asking them what I could be doing to speed up the process or improve it along the way.
“When I was able to come back in that VFL scratch match I was able to play a full game rather than capped time. So that was good to get a couple of big footy sessions in before I played against Collingwood and have that confidence that I was really ready to let loose.”
Simpson’s alert and busy nature on the field is different to his persona when he’s away from football.
His laid-back personality and ability to have conversations with players young and old make ‘Silk’ an extremely popular member of the group.
At the end of the season, Simpson and teammate Jack Henry are going to road trip their way down the east-coast of Australia, checking out the sights and catching some waves before arriving back in Geelong.
“I just bought an old Volkswagen van and we’re planning to deck it out and do a bit of a camping trip on the way home. There’s a few boys and their partners coming as well so there’ll be a bit of a convoy at stages and it’ll be nice to tick a few places off that we haven’t been to and see some nice beaches and find a few waves hopefully,” Simpson said.
“I’ve got my big longboard (surfboard) up here so the little waves are going to be the best ones for me.
“Hopefully by the time we arrive back more of the restrictions will have lifted because we definitely feel for everyone back home during this crazy year.”
Geelong will play in its fourth preliminary final in five years when it takes on Brisbane at the Gabba on Saturday night and Simpson is confident the Lions’ home ground advantage won’t be too big of a factor.
“We’ve been playing really well there (at the Gabba) so I think we’ll just take that positive mindset into it and really embrace it. We know what to expect. The crowd’s going to be loud and there’s definitely that psychological switch that you can make, but it’s much better playing in front of crowds as well rather than playing in front of no-one.”