ONFIELD, Eric Clarke said he felt no different from any other man playing in the Ballarat Football League.
Onfield, Clarke felt equal to every other player determined to win the ball for his team.
When he played for St Kilda in the 1980 VFL season, Clarke copped a fair bit of talk from over the fence.
The difference, he thinks, was people in Ballarat knew who he was and how he went about his game.
Racism was prevalent about town but Clarke said it did not affect his game – as an Aboriginal player – once he stepped on the ground.
“Once you make friends at a club, they don’t really see you any different,” Clarke said.
“I didn’t really feel any different, only when I looked in the mirror I saw I looked different.”
Clarke has praised the BFL’s inaugural Indigenous Round, which will recognise the league’s indigenous players this weekend and bid to stamp out racial vilification.
The indigenous round will feature a welcome ceremony acknowledging the traditional owners at each venue, and the centre circles at all grounds will be painted in the black, yellow and red of the Aboriginal flag.
Where possible, indigenous players will represent their clubs at the coin toss.
It falls in line with this week’s AFL indigenous round.
Clarke stamped his mark on the game as a fast, elusive centreman first with North Ballarat where he made the 1973 premiership team aged 16 and was a member of the 1978-79 premierships.
Recruited to St Kilda in 1980, Clarke had a stint at Redan before returning to North Ballarat.
Clarke’s football hero was BFL dual Henderson medallist Ted Lovett, who played with Fitzroy in the 70s.
Lovett told The Courier earlier this week that the BFL indigenous round was a fantastic starting point with the potential to promote pathways for a whole band of promising, young Aboriginal footballers through western Victoria.
Clarke, who is now based in Frankston, backed the notion.
He will take about 25 underprivileged indigenous youths to the MCG tonight for the Dreamtime clash between Essendon and Richmond.
Most have never been to the MCG before.
Indigenous Round, at any level football, was a way Clarke felt celebrated all indigenous players.
“As a former St Kilda player, I like to keep track of Terry Milera, Raph Clarke and the indigenous players that came before them and see these guys doing some good,” Clarke said.
“Even though I don’t barrack for other clubs, I still think it’s fantastic to see indigenous players play good footy and – in our words – work some ‘black magic’.”