It was 2008 and I had just been drafted to the Carlton Football Club.
Funnily enough, after 18 years of living in Australia, it was also the first time I had met Indigenous people.
Now they were my new team mates.
Eddie Betts, Jeff Garlett and Chris Yarran, three names who would be superstars of the competition but most importantly, friends and brothers for life.
Being an AFL fan, if you hadn’t heard of the name Eddie Betts you must of been hiding under a rock, or living in Tasmania, because I hadn’t.
I barely watched football growing up, but that’d soon change in my first training session at the Blues.
Stating the obvious, I wasn’t shy, but with the brothers (as everyone referred to their group) I didn’t know what to expect.
Eddie came up to the new draftees to introduce himself with that trademark smile, flat peak hat and wearing bling in his ears.
He had gone down the line bro’ing out with Jeffy and Yazza and speaking broken Nyoongar language like they’d known each other for years. This is a culture I would learn and fall in love with down the track.
The first time meeting him I experienced the most awkward handshake ever. You know exactly what I mean, the conventional ‘how do you do’ shake but then he’s turned the hand and he’s brought me in with a hug.
Eddie Betts the third would become an idol, role model and take me under his wing without even realising it. Being away from family and friends, who were home in Tasmania, I would get homesick a lot.
During my early years at Carlton I would soon understand the hardship this bubbly, loving bloke had experience growing up. Defying all odds as a community-run-amok kid to one of the biggest names in the AFL, which is a credit to himself, family and his wife.
I moved in with Eddie in my first year, after struggling with professionalism and the standards of AFL football. Was it the best scenario for him? Probably not, he didn’t have to but he had just bought a house in Brunswick and I rented a room off him.
Fresh from moving out of my parent’s home, I can only imagine how difficult I would of been to live with, especially for his partner Anna Scully when we didn’t always see eye to eye.
Reflecting back now, I would’ve kicked a young Mitch Robinson out within a few weeks. Especially after I posted a photo to my private Facebook page of us two in Vegas on a footy trip.
You hear the cliché ‘behind every great man is a great woman’, this is very true in this case. Without Anna by his side, Eddie wouldn’t be where he is today I have no doubt in my mind.
She didn’t change who he was, but harnessed the positives and put lots of work into his habits and shaped the man you see today, she allowed Eddie to get the most out of his career on and off-field.
This is a man who now has accolades after accolades at the Blues, becoming a two-time Carlton leading goal kicker, AFL goal of the year, huge marks and was Carlton best first-year player in 2005, yet no ego.
From the start of his career till today, he will be the first player to greet the fans and members and be the last to leave, often times it became a joke when we would be leaving the field after a win or loss at the Blues – “We all here”, “nah, waiting on Eddie”.
He hasn’t forgotten where he has come from and that’s why he is an absolute fan favourite being stopped everywhere he goes and giving his time to chat and take a photo. Eddie is humble.
You realise a player’s worth, not only on a footy field where he is seen as the game’s freakish talent kicking goals from the boundary, but what he brings to the change rooms and club off-field.
I remember being shocked, and pissed off, when Eddie had message the boys in a group chat saying he was going to Adelaide via free agency. I had known a couple months earlier that talks were underway but didn’t think it would happen.
We were shattered as a playing group, but no one was more heart broken than Eddie himself when a deal couldn’t get done with Carlton.
He bled blue and losing a player of his magnitude over an extra year on the contract was catastrophic.
Our tight knit group lost a mentor and ultimately, our way. I immediately told my manager to get me to the Crows if a trade could eventuate.
Since his departure and arrival at the Adelaide Crows, he has been crowned a three-time All Australian, four-time club leading goal kicker, two-time goal of the year, played in a Grand Final and married his best friend all whilst raising four children.
But the resume doesn’t outweigh how the once quiet boy from Port Lincoln acts off the field.
When I saw racist remarks directed at Eddie, I felt nothing but anger and wanted to inflict some pain on the individual but when a banana was thrown at him during the showdown, what did he feel?
This is where Eddie stands up and differs from the rest, he didn’t want to shame or bring those people down. All he wanted was to raise awareness and bring both parties together to make a stand against racism. Eddie is all class.
I could reflect on endless stories and accomplishments of his, but the off-field success is where I’m genuinely grateful for crossing paths with Eddie.
Unbelievably his social media accounts actually reflect his real life. He is an amazing father, attends all the kids sporting events he can, works with numerous charities and he is one of few indigenous athletes who genuinely gives back to the communities.
He recently released part one of a children’s book Lil Homies which explores and raises awareness about something close to his heart – his culture. Not bad for a bloke who started his career struggling to read and write.
It hasn’t been the best start to the season this year of his 539-goal career, but he is definitely not slowing down, kicking three goals last weekend with a trade mark boundary snap. Fans still flock to the game to see his magic live.
As I’m writing this piece, I’m en route to Adelaide to celebrate my brother boy’s 300th game. A milestone which we should celebrate across the country.
A highlight of my career is being able sit in the car on the way to the MCG and listen to Alan Jackson, before pulling on the navy blue and running out to battle.
I stay in regular contact with a man who shaped my career and am still in constant awe of what he produces on the football field at the age of 32.
In my opinion he is easily in the top three best Indigenous players of all time, and in the conversation of the greatest small forward to ever play the game.
Win lose or draw, you’re a champion Buttsy, congratulations.