This past weekend Brent Harvey eclipsed Michael Tuck’s long standing record for most AFL Games played by taking the field for his 427th game. To recognise this momentous achievement The Sportress declared the week ‘Boomer Harvey Week’. A week-long celebration of the North Melbourne champ and his record we believe will last forever.
Today we conclude our ‘Boomer Week’ celebrations by taking a look at North Melbourne’s Number 29, game 427 and a record breaking journey.
As you crossed the Southern Cross railway overpass, you couldn’t help but be caught up in the festive mood amongst the large crowd of 44,287, meandering their way to the ground. All, at least in part, in attendance to bear witness to history. Pallets of Football Records piled high, in readiness for increased demand were conspicuous, behind frantic sellers trying to get to each customer after their piece of memorabilia. Inside the ground Boomer ‘Record’ caps, on sale for $10, were flying out the door as fans bustled in extraordinarily long queues at the merchandise stands.
As the two teams prepared pre-game, Harvey paid homage to Michael Tuck, the man whose record he was passing by wearing a special long sleeve warm up top. In a video played to the waiting masses he might also have been channelling another former games record holder, Ted Whitten, in a message to his detractors he ‘stuck it right up ‘em’. You can watch Boomer thank his detractors for ‘being wrong 427’ times here:
His list of detractors was a long one. Despite an impressive junior career culminating with a best on ground in the 1995 TAC Cup Grand Final with the Northern Knights, there was an overriding thought that he just wasn’t big enough for league footy. Forty-six players were selected before the diminutive 17 year olds name was read out. Even then, having already selected 3 players, it took all of North Melbourne’s Head Recruiter’s persuasive skills to convince Coach Denis Pagan to use selection 47 on Harvey.
The question marks didn’t end with his selection, his new Kangaroos team-mates needed convincing too. After being dropped off by his parents at the Kangaroos first time trial at the ‘tan, Glenn Archer thought he was an autograph seeking fan rather than recognising him as a new recruit. Even after his identity was confirmed North veteran Ian Fairley was bewildered, jokingly asking “have we drafted a jockey or something?”
As Boomer completed his preparations on Saturday night, in the rooms opposite St Kilda coach Alan Richardson was overseeing the Saints last run throughs. Richardson one of 15 current senior AFL coaches to be still playing when Boomer was drafted, also shared another of Harvey’s special career moments. In Round 22, 1996 Richardson lined up for Collingwood against Harvey’s North Melbourne. It was Boomer’s first AFL game, it also happened to be Richo’s last.
It was no mean feat for Harvey to earn his first game. North Melbourne were flying and on the way to that season’s premiership. Premiership medals aren’t easy to come by and players don’t like to give up their hold on a playing spot when they appear to be just on the horizon.
If the lack of opportunity wasn’t a hurdle enough, Boomer still had a sceptical coach to convince he was ready for any such opportunity. It has been said that Denis Pagan would ask Harvey and another rookie to stay behind after training and compete in an old school drill to test desire. He would line them up, kick a ball away from them and demand they fight tooth and nail to be the man to bring the ball back to him. He would then line them up again and repeat until his curiosity was satisfied that night.
It was a valuable lesson for a young Harvey. No matter the situation, there was always another contest to win. You had to always be ready for whatever question League Football asked of you. It was a lesson he heeded, even now 21 seasons into a stellar career, Harvey still leads his club by example when it comes to preparation and training.
St Kilda made their way onto the playing arena through a banner with a respectful nod to the record breaker. With their arrival the excitement and expectation of Boomer’s entrance began to circle the stadium.
A deserved bipartisan standing ovation greeted the little champ when he officially entered the field of battle more often than any other. A special acknowledgement for him and, with his three children joining him, a special moment he was able to share with his family. Something his oldest son Cooper might almost be sick of, having joined his dad for seven previous milestones. Even in this deserved moment in the limelight he was able to take the time to make some little fans day, a guard of honour comprised of young North Melbourne supporters all received a high five from their hero.
The game billed as a ‘Final in July’ never really reached any great heights. Despite the error ridden contest in front of them the crowd were in great voice, especially whenever Boomer went near the ball. The 1999 Premiership Player, 4 Time All-Australian, 5 Time Best & Fairest, EJ Whitten Medallist and member of the North Melbourne Team of the Century although in the Kanga’s leading ball winners was serviceable if not damaging.
The fact that we are even talking about how damaging Harvey was in game 427 is an achievement. The little champ hasn’t just limped to the line he has sprinted to it, after all this time the 38 year old is still one of his club’s best 10 players.
To put this longevity into perspective, 25 of the players who lined up at Etihad Stadium on Saturday night were yet to start school when Harvey was drafted, 4 of whom weren’t even born yet. One of the players whose time on earth has been shorter than Harvey’s time on an AFL list is Jade Gresham. Gresham the St Kilda rookie has a special relationship with Boomer, his father Jamie having played with Harvey in the Northern Knights Premiership side of 1995. If you’ve seen Gresham’s evasion and finishing ability this season (a pick of the bunch you can see here), you’d have to say he’s listened whenever his Dad’s premiership team-mate has given any advice.
With the result long decided, late in the last quarter, Lindsay Thomas’ mark 12 metres out directly in front, resulted in a surprise, the goal sneak hand passing a certain goal to the record man who made no mistake registering career goal 512. While many detractors who had over time suggested Harvey was selfish may have shared knowing nods, Kangaroos supporters shared pure joy, the moment they’d waited and willed all night had arrived.
Their man had delivered. Again.
At the final siren all eyes turned again to Harvey, with hostilities ended each player made a beeline to congratulate him.
With that, all that was left was the final recognition.To the sound of another standing ovation, long time team-mates Michael Firrito and Drew Petrie chaired the man of the hour off the field through a guard of honour consisting of each player and umpire.
With that the AFL Games Record marker was moved to 427, where Harvey will finally plant it is unknown, whatever the number, what is known is that it is hard to imagine anyone ever bettering it.