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Where are they now: Paul Northeast

Honouring Paul Northeast " PTV Honouring Paul Northeast

HE is the lifelong Port Adelaide supporter who lived out his dream of playing for and winning eight premierships with the club. 

But what many may not have realised is that a tragic accident nearly saw Paul Northeast walk away from football before his league career had even begun.

In a candid Where Are They Now, portadelaidefc.com.au spoke with Northeast about his passion for the club, the influence his grandparents had on him, and how Port Adelaide helped him get back on track after a train accident which claimed their lives.

Paul Northeast was the bustling, reliable defender with the awkward kicking style who graduated from childhood supporter sitting in the stands to premiership hero.

“Right from the day I was born I had black and white blood through me,” he told portadelaidefc.com.au.

“My nan and pap were fanatical fans and used to sit right up on the fence for games. Their ashes are actually scattered on Alberton Oval.

“If I wasn’t sitting with Dad at a young age, I’d be sitting with them.

“They were really passionate supporters and lived at Rosewater so I probably got it from them.

“We knew that especially when your team was down that you had to barrack harder to get them back in the contest.”

If he wasn’t sitting with his grandparents then you could often find Northeast in the cheer squad, even after he played games in the reserves, he’d hop the fence and sit among the faithful.

“My old man was a fanatical supporter so we went rain, hail or shine to every Magpie game, whether it was at home or away from a young age,” Northeast explained.

“As I got older and my mate was in the cheer squad so I used to go and stand with him and them because I used to love the way they chanted and cheered on the team.

“After some of the B-Grade games when I played, my mate would be right in amongst it so I’d go get in there with him too.”

Northeast went on to play 235 senior games for the Magpies during his 14-year senior career, earning life membership of the club in 1997.

He won eight premierships in that time, representing the club as a junior before working his way through the system to earn his senior debut in 1987.

The 1991 Best and Fairest winner played in nine senior grand finals, losing only the 1997 decider, before his retirement in 2000.

His efforts were recognised with his induction to the Port Adelaide Football Club Hall of Fame in 2018.

“My first league game was against Centrals in 1987 at Alberton. We actually won that and it was huge for me having been a young kid that followed the club,” Northeast remembered.

“I will never forget it. I had shivers up my neck and I just kept shaking my head in disbelief that I was out there running around as a 17-year-old with my heroes.

“I went off the rails a bit in 1988 because those fanatical grandparents were killed in a train accident on Newcastle Street just before the footy season started.

“If it wasn’t for footy, who knows where I would have been. I was certainly going to the wrong side of the rails.

“There were certainly a few times throughout my career that I made the wrong choices but I was lucky enough to have people around the club to help me through.

“I was lucky to have a club like Port Adelaide to help me come out the other side being a person who works in the community.”

While he debuted in 87, the train accident meant he wasn’t entirely focussed on footy.

But thanks to the support of his now wife Paula and his “family” at the club he found his way back.

In his own words it wasn’t until 1989 that he finally cracked it at league level.

“I knuckled down after playing in a Reserves premiership,” he recalled.

“I saw what happened to the A-Grade and while it was great for the reserves to win a flag, it was all about the A-grade footballers and I wanted to win one with the league team.

“I had a huge pre-season in 1988-89 and was lucky enough to play in the foundation cup premiership side, which is the night series before the season, and I was able to stay in the side and go on to win the Grand Final at the end of the year against North Adelaide.”

While admitting to some disappointment at not being invited to train with Adelaide when it came into the AFL, he went on to win the Best and Fairest in 1991 but suffered more disappointment at the club missing out on premiership success.

Northeast holds the enviable record of winning eight out of nine grand finals he appeared in as well as two Reserves grand finals – an incredible achievement for a life-long fan.

“I knew what it felt like to be in the outer as a supporter when we lost and I didn’t like it. I was 14 when we lost the 84 Grand Final and I remember leaving the oval and I was really upset and crying,” he recalled.

“This old fella put his arm around me – I didn’t know who he was – and he said ‘don’t worry son. Keep barracking for Port Adelaide and you’ll see more premierships before you die’.

“Then I was lucky enough to be involved in the next lot of premierships.”

 

In all, Northeast played in 11 grand finals in 14 seasons, yet he had been told as a youngster that he’d never make it because of his kicking style.

“My kicking style looked awkward to people but it didn’t feel awkward when I was out there,” he said.

“I reckon I probably ran at 85-90% of my kicks hitting the target.

“When I was younger, I used to kick like the Krakouer brothers and they told me I would never play league footy if I kicked like that so Bob Clayton spent a good 12 months trying to change my kicking style.

“I still ended up guiding the ball to my boot with two hands. They tried to get me to do it with one hand but I still kept two hands on it and it became even more awkward.

“Maybe they should have just let me go because I probably lost distance but in the end everything worked out alright.”

Northeast walked away from the club after playing one last Grand Final – with the Reserves in 2000.

He was only 30 and not completely ready to retire.

“I still probably had another three or four years to go,” he explained.

“I missed out on the captaincy a couple of years in a row and there were a few things I didn’t agree with. I wanted to be captain and had been a leader in a lot of the junior grades but it wasn’t to be.

“Other clubs wanted me but I didn’t want to go to another SANFL club.

“I decided to go up and play country footy. I played for Paskeville in 2001 and we won a premiership when they hadn’t won one since 1987.

“Then I coached them for two years and we came third one year and lost the Grand Final the next.

“After a year off in 2004 I went to Moonta and played in a premiership in the first year, and that was the club’s first flag in 42 years.”

Nowadays Northeast lives on Yorke Peninsula with his family at Port Hughes.

And while he is creating new memories, many of his fondest come from his time at Port Adelaide.

“The club was like a family and we still keep in contact and still catch up with a lot of the players who played together,” he said.

“It was a magic time to be around the club.

“It’s a close second to having kids but it’s pretty well up there.”

Northeast has been married to his wife Paula for nearly 26 years.

His children Will, 23, Olivia, 22, Harrison, 12 and Jack, 10 keep him busy along with his time at the Wallaroo Football Club.

He coached senior colts for five years and then the A-Grade for a couple of years, but now remains involved with the Auskick, Under 12 and Under 14 sides.

He works at St Mary McKillop’s Catholic School, where for the last seven years he has done everything from driving the school bus to helping children in maths and literacy groups.

He is a mentor for children who need male role models, runs the school sports program and coaches most of the school cricket, tennis, basketball, soccer and football sides.

On Mondays and Fridays he even helps out with the groundskeeping duties.

His oldest son Will works in the community team at the Port Adelaide Football Club running programs about healthy lifestyles, STEM and positive outlooks for children from various backgrounds including those from defence families.

He also played Reserves football for Port Adelaide.

Northeast spends a lot of time fishing, labelling himself a fanatic who “gets out on the water whenever I can.”

Along with his Hall of Fame Induction, one of his proudest moments came in 2018 when he presented the guernseys to debutants Jack Watts, Tom Rockliff, Dom Barry and Steven Motlop.

He gave a rousing speech, which took him back to his playing days.

“I think for a little bit there I thought I was coaching them the way I got riled up but I was just excited to be there because it was the first time I’d been in those rooms,” Northeast joked.

“To have that opportunity was a real buzz, a proud moment for me and the family.”