FOR Tony Lockett’s family, watching him become a member of AFL royalty on Thursday night was simply surreal.
Surrounded by the biggest and brightest names to grace the national football stage, seeing ‘Plugger Junior’ elevated to Legend status in the AFL Hall of Fame came with a colossal sense of pride.
Here was the family man they call Tony in the national spotlight, his feats as the greatest goal-kicker in the history of the game earning him the highest possible recognition.
For mother Liz it was far beyond what she ever expected.
Although she still remembers the days of Tony as a one-year-old with a plastic footy in hand, she never imagined he would even make it to the VFL/AFL.
It wasn’t until he was recruited by St Kilda as a 16-year-old that the enormity of his potential started to hit home.
“He wasn’t even that big as a kid, it wasn’t until he was about 16 or 17 that he took off,” Liz recalled.
“For two or three years I had to drive him down to Melbourne during the week to training.
“It was pretty nerve-racking throughout his whole career watching him every week.”
Liz and father Howard (the original Plugger Lockett) have filled cupboards with scrapbooks collected from their son’s 281-game career, covering everything from his senior debut for St Kilda at age 17 to the magical moment he broke the goal-kicking record with a wobbly punt in 1999 while playing for Sydney.
The couple still live in Ballarat, as does daughter Di Nevett, who was in awe of the attention her younger brother received at Crown Casino.
“It was just football royalty everywhere – it was amazing,” Nevett said.
“We felt so proud to just sit there and reflect on his career with everyone in the room, it was surreal.”
Howard described the occasion as “absolutely magical”, himself dazzled by all of the AFL star’s basking in the greatness of his own son.
“Everywhere you looked there was a star,” he said.
“We never even thought Tony would play VFL, let alone all this.”
Tony now lives near Bowral, NSW and is renowned as a media recluse, deliberately staying away from the public eye since his final retirement in 2002.
Just yesterday he was back riding a motorbike in the middle of the Simpson Desert, the furthest thing from the glitz and glamour of the AFL Hall of Fame awards.
If you ask some, there was never any doubt Tony, the North Ballarat junior, was going to go a long way.
Club historian Stan “Digger” Roberts followed his career closer than any other footballer to come out of Eureka Stadium – an impressive list that includes the likes of Mick Malthouse and Adam Goodes.
“In the under-12s he was kicking goals from the centre of White Flat Oval – he was always that far ahead of any of the other kids in the game,” he said.
The club connection with North Ballarat also remains as strong as ever.
Tony’s grandfather Charlie was the original Lockett to stake his claim on the Ballarat football landscape as a North Ballarat committee member, while Howard played more than 200 games for the Roosters.
Nevett is on the club board, while cousin Jenny Bromley is serving as the first female chair of North Ballarat.
“He always speaks highly of North Ballarat,” Nevett said.
“It holds a strong place in his heart.”