Centre of attention

Steve Armstrong plays his 400th game for Goulburn tomorrow.Armstrong set for 400th
Nanjing Night Net

HE’S only small in stature, yet Steve Armstrong is on the cusp of a giant feat. The veteran footballer tomorrow laces up the boots, slips on a jersey and steps onto the football paddock for the 400th time.

Along the way the now 51-year-old has racked up four premierships, eight league best and fairest awards, and three grand final man-of-the-match accolades. And he’s not finished yet.

“I’d put him at the top,” Goulburn’s team manager of 23 years Bob Stephens says, when rating the city’s best footballers.

“We struggled in the 90s, even after we won two premierships, and he kept us going. It’s a marvellous effort.”

Armstrong is not only one of the best players the Goulburn Hawks – who folded in 1998 but were reincarnated via the Goulburn City Swans in 2004 – have produced, he’s been a key volunteer for the clubs off the pitch too.

On top of coaching the Swans in the last two seasons and occasionally in the years prior, the school teacher by profession has assumed the responsibilities of club treasurer and in the past held every position on the committee. He’s also heavily involved with the junior Swans, a club that produces many of the city’s next generation of stars.

So accomplished is his record, Armstrong has drawn praise from the man he’ll next week surpass as the club’s all-time record holder.

“I’ve always admired his courage. He’s very tenacious, and as a player, he’s inspired a lot of people,” Wendell Rosewarne, who retired with 400 games to his credit, says.

“It’s a wonderful achievement. It was Steve who kept me playing into my fifties. Unlike him, I cheated Aussie rules; I got into it by accident.

“But Steve, he’s religious about it and as we all know, he’s very competitive. He deserves the record.”

The man of the moment has vowed not to let the occasion get the best of him. First and foremost, the Swans need a win. The men in red and white have struggled to field a consistent team this season and languish in ninth position with two wins and six losses.

A fiercely competitive footballer, Armstrong won’t be able to enjoy the occasion to the fullest unless his charges notch their third win.

“It’s just another game. The goal is for the team to do well on the day.”

Armstrong said of tomorrow’s showdown with Ainslie.

“On the other hand, it’s hard to ignore when lots of people come up to you and wish you well.

“Obviously, it’s a big milestone. A lot of my teammates in the 80s used to say, ‘Are you going to keep playing as long as Wendell Rosewarne?’, and we’d scoff and have a bit of laugh.

“It’s amazing how quickly it’s come around.” Understandably, his 400 game career is chocfull- of highlights. From winning premierships to best and fairest medals, to sharing a beer with his mates and playing with his two sons, Brad and James, there’s little – if anything – Armstrong hasn’t achieved since his debut in 1983. But what, precisely, is the number one highlight? “It’s hard to pick one thing in particular,” he said.

“Playing with my boys, that’s pretty much a real highlight. From a team point of view, the grand finals. You can’t go past those.

“The first grand final in ’90, the first for the club in 18 years, we’d worked pretty hard for it, that was special. And then we backed it up in ’91.

“When the Swans first formed, after the Hawks had a recess that was a pretty special moment. And then I guess the last one we’d won, against Gungahlin. They stacked their side. They looked at the bylaws, no-one else had recognised that the by-laws allowed them to play all these extra players. That was a pretty big game to get over. To win that by nine points was just sensational. That one really meant a lot. The last grand final will really stick in my mind,” he said.

Of course, there’s more to football than premierships and personal accolades.

“The fantastic people I’ve met and played with, and my very understanding wife and family, they’re the real highlights,” he said.

It’s been 30 years with numerous highs and plenty of lows, but at Kenmore Oval tomorrow from 2pm, the man they call ‘Fox’ will finally join the 400 club.

Follow @LloydScroope

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