Alec Epis wasn’t nicknamed 'The Kookaburra' for nothing - he can tell one heck of a story!

Speaking from Windy Hill for the sixth episode of historical podcast Fabric of the Essendon Football ClubEpis discussed his journey from Kalgoorlie-Boulder in the mid-1950s to Essendon on the opposite side of the country. He would go on to play 180 games in red and black (1958-68), win two premierships (1962 and 1965), represent Victoria and leave an indelible mark on the Bombers over a remarkable five decades’ involvement with the club.

“It’s just been a great contribution to my life,” Epis explained. “I’ve met people I never thought I’d ever meet, I’ve been to places I never thought I’d ever go to, and it’s all because of the club. The best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve been able to play in four Grand Finals, won two, been able to play for Victoria. This was just a great club. Good people who were there to help you.”

His first coach was the legendary Dick Reynolds, who helped make Epis’ transition into a new environment an easier one.

“Dick Reynolds was very good to me. He used to look after John Birt, who came down from Ballarat, and I was good mates with John Birt - two country kids. Dick and [his wife] Jeanne were just fantastic to me. He was never like a coach to me, he was more like one of my best friends.

“That’s important when you come [from] interstate. That’s why clubs have to understand kids from interstate do have trouble adjusting sometimes. I’ve come from the bush and [suddenly] here I am, huge town, towering buildings and all that, on my own. But one day I sat down and said, ‘Now, what am I here for? I’m here to play football. Who for? For my parents and for my old club, Mines Rovers in Boulder,’ who’d taught me how to play footy and had been good to me. I thought, ‘I don’t want to go home and be a failure - I have to be a success.’ And that’s what inspired me.”

By the early-1960s, under Reynolds’ replacement as coach, John Coleman, Essendon possessed the best half-back line in football: Epis, Ian ‘Bluey’ Shelton and Barry Davis.

“We told ‘Bluey’ that we made him,” Epis joked.

“‘Without us, you were nothing!’ We were three different characters. There was Barry, very serious and studious. There was Bluey, the farmer, easy going. Then there was me, the Italian who thinks he knows everything. But we all had one great ambition: to be successful and to play for Essendon. That’s what we wanted to do. It was so important to us.”

In 2007, Epis was named at half-back in the Italian Team of the Century, one of five Essendon players - along with Mark Mercuri, Steve Alessio, Scott Camporeale and Joe Misiti - to make the team.

02:45 Mins
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BTV: Hall of Fame - Alec Epis

Hall of Fame Inductee - Alec Epis.

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While Epis had quickly formed a team within a team alongside Shelton and Davis, he took a little longer to see eye to eye with the great Coleman. On the club’s interstate trip to Epis’ Western Australian home town, Coleman was asked by a reporter how their local product was faring in the big league, to which Coleman replied, “He’s not as good as he thinks he is.” That quip made the newspaper, much to the horror of Epis’ mother. 

“My poor old mum, she was just devastated. So, I challenged him (Coleman) when we got to Perth. I said, ‘I ought to belt you in the mouth.’ He goes, ‘Well, what do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘What about here?’ and Coley said, ‘Why don’t we wait until we get back to the club?’ I said, ‘That’ll do me.’ So, we played in Perth and we got back to the club and we trained, and I said, ‘What about here?’ He said, ‘No, no, there’s a few people here, you don’t want that happening. See you inside.’ So, I went inside and we start grappling at one another. Then I threw a punch and he ducked his head to the left and the club doctor jumped in between us to try and stop us and I copped him [in the face]. [Dr] Ian Zimmerman was one of my best friends! I flattened him out on the ground and broke his glasses - it was awful.”

Coleman and Epis were summoned to the committee room to explain themselves.

“Neither of us could be in the same room together: he had to be in one room and I had to be in the other. He went in first and he came out and said, ‘You’re in big trouble.’ I went in and they just said, ‘How dare you do that.’ What I’d done, I’d brought in my bag and all my footy gear. I said ‘I’m going home.’ They said ‘Close the door, he’s not going home.’ Coley waited for me outside and when I came out, we walked out with our arms around one another, and we became better friends than we’d ever been.”

03:21 Mins
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Fabric | The Coleman-Epis altercation

Alec Epis explains his infamous altercation with the great John Coleman in the latest episode of Fabric of the Essendon Football Club. Listen to the podcast on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

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After hanging up the boots following the three-point loss to Carlton in the 1968 Grand Final - Epis was one of the best players afield - he later served on Essendon’s committee, where he occasionally clashed with another club great in coach Kevin Sheedy.

“'Sheeds' and I never got on together, but we do now. I thought he was doing too many talks and nights out when he should be coach of the players. I couldn’t get the support of the committee on that, so him and I didn’t get along. But we do now, we’re really good friends.

"Look, he was really good for the club. When we got him as coach [in October 1980] our accreditation was zero. We were having trouble getting sponsors because we were nothing, we lost in the finals and all that. He came and gave a bit of heart to the club, [gave us] big hope; it was him and it was the club as well. We gradually got a lot of the supporters back and he was very good to the supporters. He gave them a lot of time. I think that he’s now become more of an Essendon person than a Richmond person.” 

02:20 Mins
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Players share special night with 1962 heroes

Past meets present in a special jumper presentation night at the NEC Hangar.

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Fabric of the Essendon Football Club is a weekly 20-episode series powered by Liberty, featuring in-depth chats between club historian Dan Eddy and 20 of the club’s most adored names across multiple decades. You can listen via SpotifyApple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.