NORTHAMPTON was abuzz with footy fever recently when a seed of an idea germinated three years ago finally reached maturity in the northern Wheatbelt town.
The occasion was the unveiling of life-sized figurines of nine current and former AFL footballers who were born and bred in the town or learnt their craft there as juniors and have now been immortalised in its main street outside the Miner's Arms Hotel.
Eight of the nine Northampton Rams AFL Legends made it back to their football birthplace for the event with only Tarkyn Lockyer unable to make the journey from Melbourne due to COVID-19 restrictions.
The elite group comprised former AFL champions Andrew Lockyer (West Coast Eagles), Daniel Chick (Hawthorn and West Coast Eagles), Tarkyn Lockyer (Collingwood), Paul Hasleby (Fremantle Dockers), Harry Taylor (Geelong) and Liam Anthony (North Melbourne) alongside current AFL superstars Josh Kennedy (West Coast Eagles), Jamie Cripps (St Kilda and West Coast Eagles) and Patrick Cripps (Carlton).
As hundreds lined the street to pay witness, what started as nine 'ghosts' hidden under white sheets was revealed as life-sized, colour action cut-out figurines as each player, one by one, lifted the veil on themselves while their numerous footballing achievements were broadcast.
Followed by a Welcome to Country by Dion Harris, the unveiling of an official plaque to commemorate the event was a shared honour for Federal Liberal MP for Durack Melissa Price (who helped secure $40,000 for the project) and Northampton Rams Junior Football Club president Chad Smith (who set the ball in motion when he tabled the idea at a Northampton Visitor Centre members' meeting three years ago).
The life-sized, full colour action photo of each player is cut from five millimetre thick aluminium plate, laminated with a double layer of anti graffiti protective cover and set against a 13.5 metre by 1.5m backdrop of a photographic scene of the Northampton football oval, home to the mighty Northampton Rams.
Fittingly, the photographic backdrop includes the Malcolm Gould scoreboard and depicts the blue-tarped, full CBH grain receival bins surrounded by local bush in the background.
The late Mr Gould was a local farmer and football legend who held the club record for the most goals kicked in a season, 69 goals, for more than 50 years until it was beaten this year by one of the nine AFL legends, Harry Taylor.
Having retired from AFL football last year after playing 280 games for Geelong, largely as a defender, the versatile talent returned to where it all began for him, to play one season with the Northampton Rams in the forward line and kicked 87 goals for the season, helping the team to a preliminary final.
It's a remarkable feat, a statistic against the odds, that a town of just 800 people, 500 kilometres from Perth, could produce nine AFL champions
And even more significant, given they not only made it to AFL level, but have become some of the most decorated players in the history of their respective clubs.
At a dinner following the unveiling, attended by almost 300 people at the Northampton Community Centre which hugs the football oval, ABC sports broadcaster and dinner emcee Ben Cameron elaborated, noting that five of the group were 200 game players, "something achieved by only about one per cent of all AFL footballers" and with Jamie Cripps sitting on 199 games that was expected to soon be six.
"We've got premiership players, club fairest and bests, rising stars, collectively they've won so many of the major medals and awards in the game and now we are seeing them also having coaching and commentating success," Mr Cameron said.
And with Patrick Cripps' younger brother Josh already having been looked at by six Eastern States' clubs this year, there is every likelihood the pavement outside the Miner's Arms Hotel at the top of town may have to make way for legend number 10 in the near future.
Add to that, the Northampton Rams women's team, which won the 2021 Great Northern Women's Football League (GNWFL) grand final in only its second year in the competition, it might just be a Northampton 'ewe' AFLW legend whose figurine is next to grace the pavement.
Northampton Rams Senior Football Club president Damian Harris also acknowledged what a huge achievement it was for a tiny town.
"In boxing terms you'd say we punch above our weight, in cricketing terms we bat above the average," Mr Harris said.
"I'm not sure how you put that in footy terms but I think our strength is in the love of the game in this area, plus there's some pretty strong footballing genes around here, we have a great colts and junior program because that's where it all starts and maybe even the lead in the water has something to do with it."
Those genes, reputed to hail back to one Charles Thomas Cripps brings a blood connection between the Cripps and the Lockyers (former West Coast Eagle, the late Chris Mainwaring was also connected to this gene pool), while Paul Hasleby and Liam Anthony are cousins from a Johnson connection.
Also speaking at the dinner, Northampton shire president Liz Sudlow said every time a school bus past by the figurines she hoped it would inspire a new generation of talent.
"I hope it pushes our kids along to believe, to be dedicated and to work hard," Ms Sudlow said.
"There were certainly some challenges in working out where to house the statues and I congratulate the Visitor Centre for their efforts and also Rick and Kerry Hasleby who have done a power of work.
"I hope you feel proud every time you drive past.
"They say it takes a village to raise a child, well our junior footy club is our village where everyone knows everyone and our kids learn from watching their parents take on leadership roles."
Ms Sudlow said Andrew Lockyer was the first to provide AFL inspiration, which created a knock-on effect.
"We were excited to have Harry (Taylor) back playing for Northampton this year and we are so grateful to Andrew and to you all for advocating for us in our plight after Seroja," she said.
"I hope that those of you still playing at the highest level will always feel that you can just be yourselves whenever you get home to Northampton.
"You will always be our heroes and our legends."
Elaborating further on how the figurines concept came to fruition, Mr Smith said he had voiced it at a Visitor Centre meeting seeking ideas on how to promote the town.
"The idea of recognising its AFL players in some way had been bandied around town for a while, with Kerry Hasleby (mother of Paul Hasleby) probably one of the first to raise it," he said.
"Northampton is not a destination place but every year thousands of people pass through on their way to and from holiday destinations north and south.
"We wanted to find ways to get them to stop and spend a bit more time here, appreciate what's around here to see and do and maybe spend a bit more money in the town while they're at it.
"Through their football achievements, these players have really helped put Northampton on the map.
"Pretty much wherever you go around Australia, if you mention Northampton, people will name one or more of them, so it seemed the perfect combination to find a way to honour them and further promote the town.
"It's taken a huge effort from so many people to get to this point but it is something our town and our football community can be really proud of."
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