They say if you can find something you love and make it your career, you’re a lucky man. So Peter Blucher is one very lucky man.
A one-time journalist and all-time sports ‘nut’, he’s been involved in Australian football in Queensland for 45 years. Writing about it, working in management inside and outside the inner-sanctum, and more recently back writing about it, he’s enjoyed the code’s good times and bad.
Not just Australian football. He was a cricket, basketball, swimming, track and field and even baseball writer at The Courier-Mail in his early days before a historic move to the Brisbane Bears in a media/public relations role the game had not seen before, which culminated in the Brisbane Lions’ 2001-02-03 premierships.
Originally from Adelaide, he moved to Queensland with his family aged five. A foundation player with the Kenmore Bears at Dumbarton Drive in 1967, he temporarily switched his football allegiance to rugby union while at Brisbane Grammar. But when a last-minute journalism cadetship with The Courier-Mail torpedoed would-be law studies he found himself back with football.
He joined The Courier-Mail in 1977, and after the obligatory taste of everything took on the QAFL round in 1979. For 10 years it was cricket in the summer and football in the winter, with other sports thrown in. Tracey Wickham, Lisa Curry and Raelene Boyle at the 1982 Brisbane Commonwealth Games were an unforgettable highlight alongside overseas tours with the Australian cricket team and the Australian basketball team. It was the dream job for a young sports fan.
The Queensland football team became ‘his’ team. From 1979 in Perth, where coach Warren Roper and captain Barry Clarke led the Maroons to the Australian carnival, he went where the Maroons went and watched Sandgate, Kedron, Windsor-Zillmere, Mayne, Southport, Coorparoo, Southport, Coorparoo, Southport, Zillmere, and Southport again, win the QAFL flag from 1979-89.
He remembers QAFL grand final day in 1981, when he was a guest at a Wilston-Grange breakfast. The great Leigh Matthews was the guest speaker, and somehow, he won the job of driving the Hawthorn legend to the Gabba for the QAFL grand final. In a non-familiar car, with the blinkers on the opposite side, he turned on the wipers every time he changed lanes. An embarrassing start to a relationship he couldn’t begin to comprehend at the time.
The Queensland team of 1983-84-85, which won the Fosters/Escort Shield against NSW, ACT and Tasmania to play a key role in the birth of the Brisbane Bears, was like heaven. The recruitment of Ken Murphy and later Andrew Ireland to Queensland football was the start of life-changing friendships as the game’s professionalism escalated enormously.
The early days of the Bears were special. A debut win over North Melbourne at the MCG in Round 1 1987 when players sang the club song holding pieces of paper which carried the words, was unforgettable.
But the Bears were playing at the wrong place at Carrara, and pretty much everyone knew it except chairman Paul Cronin and owner Christopher Skase. With long-time mate and Daily Sun counterpart Brian Burke he fought the media fight to get the club to Brisbane.
But after three years he tired of the repeated drive to Carrara. With the Brisbane Bullets on the rise in the National Basketball League under Brian Kerle, he accepted a role as Media/PR Manager of the club in 1989 – the first full-time role of this type in any sport in Australia. He kept in touch with the AFL as Queensland correspondent for ‘The Age’.
But football was always No.1 and when the Bears moved to the Gabba under CEO Ireland so did he. He became the first Media/PR Manager in the AFL. It was a role designed to elevate the club’s presence in the sporting community primarily in Queensland and was a catalyst for what is now media departments at all AFL clubs of eight, ten and even more people.
From shoddy old offices in an old restaurant under the Clem Jones Stand in Stanley Street to better offices beneath the refurbished Bears Social Club and finally the slick multi-story headquarters at Gate 2, he saw it all and not just in the AFL. There were countless cricketing highlights, including Queensland’s first Sheffield Shield win on 28 March 1995 that shut down all productivity and even delayed Bears training. But none more memorable than the 2000 Olympics, when the Gabba hosted the soccer and the Cameroon team that ultimately won the gold medal. Appropriately known as ‘the Indomitable Lions’, the Cameroon players did their washing in a brand new hot tub because they didn’t understand what it was for.
They were hard yards early, punctuated by the Bears-Fitzroy merger, but ultimately the invaluable groundwork of coach Robert Walls, the brief tinkering of John Northey and the all-consuming magic of Matthews produced arguably the best team in AFL history. A premiership hat-trick in 2001-02-03 in which they beat MCG tenants Essendon and Collingwood (twice) was extraordinary. Especially in comparison to the Hawthorn hat-trick of 2013-14-15 in which they beat interstate sides Fremantle, Sydney and West Coast. A favourite and irrefutable Blucher statistic.
“You appreciated the good times more having been through the bad times, and the first premiership was difficult even to comprehend. We had a leadership that understood the club’s role as the code’s Queensland flagship, and a playing group as good off the field as they were on it,” Blucher recounted.
“I was especially lucky to have a boss in Andrew Ireland who just ‘got it’ and a couple of fantastic media department allies in Nicky Leppitsch (sister of Justin) and Ron McDonald (ex-Daily Sun journalist). They knew it was never a 9-5 job – more like 24-7 – but we loved every minute of it.
“The playing group from Michael Voss and Alastair Lynch down … Jonathan Brown, Simon Black, Nigel Lappin, Shaun Hart, Marcus Ashcroft, the Scott brothers … it’s wrong to individualise because the strength of the group was the depth of the group. That so many went on to coach or work in the AFL, or in the AFL media, underlines the quality.”
With a young family on board, he moved on, and in 2004 with Voss and Lynch, among others, founded an AFL player management company. At the time the ex-captains were managed out of Melbourne and rarely saw their supposed No.1 allies. The mission was to help young Queenslanders.
First Velocity Sports and later Vivid Sport, it has been a primary focus since, helping dozens of players navigate their AFL journey. From Brown, Black and Josh Drummond through the likes of Kurt Tippett, Charlie Dixon, Zac Smith, Tom Hickey, Brendan Whitecross, Allen Christensen, Harris Andrews, Eric Hipwood, Adam Treloar, Mitch Robinson, Lachie Weller, Keidean Coleman, and more. A proud and satisfying role, and a labour of love.
Along the way Blucher wrote the biographies of coach Matthews and Chronic Fatigue victim Lynch, compiled the history the Brisbane Football Club, and has written extensively for the Lions, the Sydney Swans and the AFL/AFLQ. He’s sat on the Lions and AFLQ Hall of Fame selection panel and spent time working with the original GC17 committee that led to the birth of the Gold Coast SUNS. The history of Queenslanders in the AFL – all 167 of them – is an ongoing passion.
He pioneered a John Blair column in The Courier-Mail early days and has ghost-written columns for inaugural Bears coach Peter Knights, high-priced recruit Warwick Capper, and in the Lions era Matthews, Lynch, Voss, Brown, Black and even David Hale when North Melbourne considered a move to the Gold Coast. Today he manages Carlton coach Voss, Port Adelaide coach Ken Hinkley and ex-North Melbourne coach turned Gold Coast development boss Rhyce Shaw, among others.
Andrew Ireland reflects on his long-time colleague: “Peter was one of the first people I met when I moved to Queensland to join the QAFL in 1981 – on my first day I went to The Courier-Mail offices in Bowen Hills to do an interview with the then head AFL writer. It started a long a long association which grew into a great friendship.
“Peter was and still is so passionate about the game, and in those early days he was a tremendous supporter of the code’s growth and in particular an avid fan of Queensland representative sides that were so important in providing the foundations for Brisbane’s own AFL team in 1987.
“When Christopher Skase determined he wanted to locate the team on the Gold Coast, Peter and Brian Burke of then ‘Daily Sun’ were critical in galvanising the public backlash against the decision and assisted greatly in the push to have the Gabba modified so that it could become the Bears home.
“Once the club relocated to the Gabba Peter was a logical recruit given his work as Media Manager with the Bullets. Critical to the code’s growth, he headed the first media department at an AFL club.
“Our association continued over many years and subsequently he and my daughter Natalie worked together at Velocity Sports and later became partners in Vivid Sport Management. Peter has been an incredible contributor to AFL in Queensland and continues to provide fantastic knowledge through his unbelievable research and writing and about all aspects of Queensland’s AFL history.”
It’s all part of a career that at least gave him a voice at the Blucher family Christmas table alongside, brother Michael, a long-time Media/PR Manager at the Queensland Reds and sporting sponsors XXXX, brother Andrew, who as marketing chief at Queensland Cricket gave the Queensland Bulls their name and founded the Brisbane Heat before stints at Queensland Netball and ‘Family of League’, the NRL’s welfare arm, and sister-in-law Kylie, managing director at Channel Nine. It’s a tough all-sports school.