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The Age

Hawk's wing clipped

Author: Lyall Johnson
Date: 19/11/2005
Words: 928
Source: AGE
          Publication: The Age
Section: Sport
Page: 4
Doug Hawkins' memories of the wing that bore his name - but is now demolished - started long before he played football, Lyall Johnson reports

LONG before his name adorned the E.J. Smith Stand proclaiming it the "Doug Hawkins Wing", a young Doug Hawkins had made the outer side of the Whitten Oval his own.

With dreams of one day playing on the oval of his beloved Footscray in the VFL, the cheeky young Hawkins, on game days, would collect his tray of lollies and drinks from the E.J. Whitten Stand and wander to the outer wing, where he would promptly sit down on the concrete terrace and watch the match while feasting on the goodies he was meant to sell.

"People had to come up to me for me to sell things to them," Hawkins recalled yesterday. He did so amid the rubble of the E.J. Smith Stand - named in honour of the former club secretary - which was being demolished as part of the $20 million redevelopment of the Whitten Oval into a state-of-the-art training facility for the Western Bulldogs, as well as a community sporting and social hub.

"I'd sit there, I'd have my little white jacket on, I had the tray with the lollies and the chocolates and potato chips and drinks. I used to sit on the outer wing here and watch the game and towards the end of the game, I'd have to do a rush to sell the food.

"There was one time I went back in and I think I owed them a dollar because I'd sat there and ate all the food."

It was the beginning of one of football's more quirky "partnerships".

Fifteen years later, with Hawkins one of Footscray's and the VFL's best players, Bulldogs coach Michael Malthouse was the architect of the formal association. During a game against Fitzroy, he told Hawkins that because he was playing so well on the outer wing, he should just stay out there for the whole game.

"The first quarter, I had a real good quarter and he said, 'Stay this side of the ground'. I had a good second quarter, I had a good game and from then on in, Mick just said, 'You're playing the outer wing'," Hawkins said.

"The reason (was) because the wind used to blow across the ground from the E.J. Whitten grandstand, and the majority of the play would be on this wing.

"Clubs, when they kicked out from their back line, they kicked out to this wing. So Malthouse said, 'Listen, the ball's going to be out here, why don't you stay there?' "

There was also the local knowledge that the water drained on the outer wing, making the ground very soft. This suited Hawkins' pace.

"I wasn't real fast and it would slow the game right down and bring all the blokes back to my pace," he said.

From that game, Malthouse had Hawkins playing on the same side of the ground, no matter where the club played, whether it was Windy Hill or the MCG.

By the mid '80s, the sign in Hawkins' honour, sponsored by local businessman Don Kirwan, was placed on the E.J. Smith Stand by his mate Steve MacPherson, staking Hawkins' ownership claims. The eastern side of Whitten Oval then became a battleground roamed by Hawkins and superstar opponents such as Wayne Schimmelbusch, Robbie Flower, Merv Neagle, Keith Greig, Darren Millane, Michael Turner and Robert DiPierdomenico.

For Hawkins, the memory of mateships forged on the wing in the heat of battle still resonates. "You'd have some fierce battles. Like with Dipper. One minute he's shaking your hand, the next he wants to kill me.

"But you become mates, you'd go back to the social club for a drink, you'd meet the umpires. But it all started out there on that wing. That friendship and bond that you get, that happened on the outer wing here."

Recalled DiPierdomenico: "We're good mates, we became good mates on the footy field. I used to love punching him in the ribs and putting his head into the ground and he used to love getting back to me."

DiPierdomenico remembered one day where he tried without success to lure Hawkins to the "unknown" side of the ground at quarter-time, but was soon forced to head back over to "the Douggie wing" as Hawkins began carving Hawthorn up.

Western Bulldogs' chief executive Campbell Rose was on hand yesterday to oversee the demolition of the E.J. Smith Stand and the Doug Hawkins Wing. He described the ground's redevelopment as an "exciting chapter in the history of the club", which would "transform an existing, redundant facility".

For Hawkins, who removed the "Doug Hawkins Wing" sign two months ago and auctioned it to raise money for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (his son Ricky has diabetes), watching the demolition of the stand and "his" wing was a bittersweet experience.

"There's a little bit of sadness, particularly playing football at the Whitten Oval for 17 years and having that part of the wing named after me in my playing days . . . it was fantastic," Hawkins said.

"But at the end of the day, talking to Campbell Rose and seeing what the club's doing, how they're going to redevelop the whole ground and particularly the outer wing, I think it is pretty exciting. I think it is great for the footy club, and I think it's better for the community. The community are going to get the chance to use the whole Whitten Oval facilities once it's all done."

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