FRANKIE Matthews knew as soon as he saw Northern Territory football on television that he wanted to be part of it.
What started out as a fascination for the speedy brand of Australia’s game played in the Territory turned into a 12-year commitment to playing footy over the summer months for the Woolsthorpe-born footballer.
“I saw Wide World of Sports when I was a kid and they had some footage of Darwin footy, and I always just wanted to have a go at it one day,” Matthews said.
“When I got old enough I did and just loved it.”
Matthews, who had played his junior footy with Old Collegians, was at Hampden club Terang when he got his chance to join Waratah in the Northern Territory Football League in 1996.
The Bloods had links with the Warriors, so he was able to source a couple of phone numbers and get the ball rolling.
So started Matthews’ tradition of spending half the year in the Northern Territory.
“As soon as the footy finished here, I’d head up and I’d come back at the end of March for the (Hampden) footy season,” Matthews said.
“The club usually arranged work and … I bought a house up there, so I had a house up there for a while and lived up there.”
Waratah was a club full of talent and often in the mix at the pointy end of the NTFL season.
Matthews considered himself lucky to play in a grand final in his first season with the Warriors, and two years later was part of the outfit that claimed back-to-back premierships.
He well and truly earned his premiership medallion in the first flag, named best on ground as Waratah easily accounted for St Marys.
“Virtually from the word go we kicked a heap of goals and they just didn’t really get a chance,” Matthews said. “We had them wrapped up at half-time.”
Matthews kicked four goals from centre half-forward that day. It was a position he made his own in the NTFL, although he never played it in Victoria.
Playing in the Hampden league, he tended to occupy full-forward, booting “a couple of 70s and 80s” at Terang and once reaching 100 goals in a season for Port Fairy
His ton came in the year of the Seagulls’ most recent grand final appearance, 2005, but the 39-year-old was modest in his assessment of his exploits as a spearhead.
“I would never really class myself as a really good full-forward,” Matthews said with a laugh.
“When I was at Terang, when I was young, ‘Tocka’ (coach Michael O’Keeffe) used to chuck me in the ruck some times.
“It was alright when I was young and had a bit of spring, but nah, I didn’t like it much. I always played full-forward down here, but for some reason I got put centre half-forward in Darwin and that’s sort of where I always played.”
The likes of Matthew Chilcott, David Johns and many others filtered through the full-forward position – “there was a different one every year” – but Matthews was a mainstay.
He found that the different style of football made the move up the ground more palatable in the NTFL than it would have been in the Hampden league at the time.
Such was his impact and contribution during his career at the club, Matthews was named at centre half-forward in the Waratah Team of the Century, announced at its centenary celebrations last month.
Keith Nickels and Lincoln withers were named either side of him on the half-forward line in a team featuring the likes of Maurice and Willy Rioli.
“I’m still in a bit of shock, really, I couldn’t believe it,” Matthews said of his inclusion.
“I was rapt to get picked in the 40-man squad and I just sort of went up – they had a ball and a footy game – and I just went to catch up with everyone.
“I still can’t believe it. There’s a lot of older fellas and that, I’ve seen their records and stuff around the rooms and on the walls.
“They were pretty good players and to be listed amongst them is definitely an honour.”
Bill Martin was named coach of the team of the century, while ruckman Denis Ganley was named captain.
The accolade came just seven years after Matthews hung up his boots for the final time, ending with “a couple of games in the B grade” for Waratah.
He estimated he played “somewhere between 400 and 500” games over his career, which included stints at other clubs across Australia.
“I definitely couldn’t fit any more in,” he said.
“I was pretty lucky with injury until I got to about 28, 29 and that’s when I started (getting) just mainly small things, like just little hamstrings. But I was really lucky, I never had any major injuries.
“I managed to keep fit.”
Matthews, who was born in Woolsthorpe, moved to Warrnambool when he was 12 after his parents Ray and Peg sold their dairy farm and moved into town.
After starting out with Old Collegians in the Warrnambool and District league as a junior, he crossed to Terang, where he spent eight seasons, winning a premiership in 1995 under O’Keeffe.
He played in a handful of Hampden league grand finals. His last, in 2005, was for Port Fairy against his former club.
“That was a big game against Terang Mortlake, but we got beaten,” Matthews said
“I played in five Hampden league grand finals, but only managed to win one.”
In the NTFL, after his heroics in a big win over St Marys in the 1998-99 premiership, Matthews said he was “just another player” in Waratah’s 1999-2000 flag, a “20-30 point” win over Palmerston Magpies.
Matthews is now enjoying spending the extra time he has away from football commitments with his wife Penny and children Ayla, 4, and Charlie, 2.