Love and pain: an AFL legend looks back at the damage done

John Platten says he suffers constant memory loss.
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AFL legend John Platten has achieved things many young Australians dream of, but dreams can also come with an underlying cost. Ebony Weston reports

“Back in those days, they would ask if you were okay… you’d go to training throughout the week and then you were ready to play the next game.” 

AFL and Hawthorn FC legend John Platten suffered a concussion in at least 30 games of his illustrious 12-year, 258-game career.

“You just got over it as quick as you could,” he says.

Now he’s paying the price. Platten says he experiences acute memory loss and has recently joined a class action against the AFL by players who suffered head injuries.

The action is being led by former Geelong and Essendon player John Barnes, who says he has suffered crippling mood swings and epilepsy as a result of repeated head knocks. It follows a historic insurance payout awarded to Shaun Smith, a former North Melbourne player in the late ’80s and ’90s, who suffered debilitating brain injury.

Platten, who is in both the AFL and the SANFL Hall of Fame, says the concussions have had a long-term effect on his memory. 

“I get frustrated a lot, I forget things, I forget where I’ve put my keys, or I forget what friends are coming around and the names of their kids I only met a week ago,” he says. 

These days John Platten, pictured with his granddaughter Imogen, is all about safety.

Wider recognition of the seriousness of the issue gives Platten hope for a potential cure, as well as pushing the AFL into donating more money for research on the brain to improve the safety of current and future players of the game. 

“I want to go through all these tests now when I am 57, I don’t want to be going through these tests when I’m 77,” Platten says.

I want to find out now so I can start rehab or those sorts of things so I can have a really good life 10-15-20 years down the track as well.

Hawthorn teammate and fellow legend Dermott Brereton says he stands with his “great little mate” in support for those who have suffered such harsh repercussions from these injuries. 

“What we are doing now is we’re applying 2020 protocols and beliefs to the damage that was done 30 years ago. We are looking to recompense people who have had that sort of damage – Shaun Smith, John Barnes and of course, Johnny Platten who is as brave as brave can be,” he says.

“When we were growing up, the world was different in the sport of AFL football, people knew the risks. It was not illegal as a code; it was not illegal as in rules to bump somebody in the head. 

“In fact, a few of us went out there looking to do it to the opposition. It was a very dangerous place to be, the football field,” Brereton says. 

Despite the damage done, Platten has glorious memories of his playing days. 

“I was never going to be a policeman, or a fireman or an accountant – I always just wanted to play footy,” he says.

“My first year at Hawthorn was in 1986. That year we won both the day and night premierships so that was a great way to start your AFL career.

“You don’t play for accolades, at the end of your career if you’ve done well enough and you’ve done the right thing by the club these achievements just come up.”

Platten and friend David Ellis at his business, which prioritises workplace safety.

Platten now owns his own business called The Safety Hub, which provides equipment to support all kinds of workplace safety. He says it’s about ensuring men and women in the workforce get home safely, which is something he knows all about.

“Looking back now, I’m very proud of what I’ve done, and I think my family would also appreciate what I’ve done. It’s certainly a great honour to be a part of that enormous Hawthorn side.”