NICKY Winmar’s football journey has taken him to most parts of Australia but Tuesday was the first time he had set foot in St Kilda’s new home base at Linen House Centre, Seaford.
The iconic former St Kilda star who had made the trip from his home in Western Australia, said he could not believe how elite the facilities were at the place the Saints had called home since the start of 2011.
“It is amazing compared to the Moorabbin days. I looked inside the change rooms and the facilities they have,” Winmar told saints.com.au.
“It’s unbelievable. I wondered why St Kilda did come here because it is a long way from Moorabbin but it’s a starting point for the future. The ground looks great and they have got the pools, spas and gym.”
Winmar is in Melbourne as part of the lead-up to the AFL’s indigenous round. The trip also marks just over 20 years since he famously lifted his jumper to stand up to racial abuse he had received from Collingwood fans at Victoria Park.
As part of his role promoting the indigenous round, Winmar appeared at Victoria Park on Monday with former team mate Gilbert McAdam, who played alongside him that day and kicked five goals in a memorable win over the Magpies.
While the day was a joyous one for the Saints, who had won just one game at Victoria Park in the preceding 16 years, the ugly side of it still resonates with Winmar two decades on.
“It brought a lot of memories back. The vilification I copped that day is still there. It’s all changed now and the AFL has done a fantastic job in the last 20 years,” Winmar said.
“A great friend of mine, Michael Long has really got on board now and changed a lot of things for the future generations.”
Saints coach Scott Watters, who like Winmar came through the South Fremantle program in his formative football years in Western Australia, gave the former star a guided tour of the club’s facilities before asking him to speak to the entire St Kilda squad.
Winmar spoke in detail about his love for the club and admiration for the current list before imparting a few lessons from his own highs and lows as a footballer.
He said he was moved by the invitation.
“I never thought I would have a chance to do that. I saw a lot of past players come back when I was playing. For myself to do that, I got really emotional when I got up there and nearly dropped a tear,” he said.
“I said I was not going to cry but I nearly did. It was fantastic to address the boys and tell them to never hold any grudges against each other and get it out and get back into footy.”
Winmar still follows the Saints closely from his home in Western Australia and says he pays particular attention to his successor in the no. 7, Lenny Hayes as well as Terry Milera, the only indigenous player on the St Kilda list.
“I have watched him a couple of times. I don’t watch much footy on TV, I listen to radio and I hear his name sometimes. I am hoping he grows into a good footballer,” Winmar said of Milera.
“The pace they have is unbelievable and I reckon he’ll go really well.”
“I have still got a soft spot for St Kilda. I will always barrack for them no matter where they are on the ladder. They will always be a club I have played at and I will always support them.”
Despite the path blazed by players such as Winmar, McAdam and Long, football is still littered with stories of young indigenous players who leave the AFL system after a couple of years only to return home.
Winmar’s advice is to stick it out as the opportunity doesn’t stay around for long.
“Just come over and have a look around. If you like it, stay and give it your best shot,” he said.
“Home will always be there but if you have a chance to come over here, stay and enjoy it while you can. Home will always be there but footy won’t be there for the rest of your life.”