2023 Queensland Football Hall of Fame – Steve Russ

Everyone in football has their own memories and stories. Steve Russ, a one-time South Melbourne player turned Morningside and Queensland stalwart, is no different. Except he has one story that captivated the football world in 1989 that only a handful of people knew.

In was when Brisbane Bears coach Peter Knights dropped Warwick Capper, the high-priced, high-profile recruit who had been branded ‘never to be dropped’ by club chairman Paul Cronin.

Knights needed somewhere very private to have what would be the bombshell selection meeting. So he took his football brains trust to the Board Room of Russ’ business in Downing Street, Spring Hill.

The ‘host’ didn’t even stay, but it said much about his standing in Queensland football at the time. He was a trusted and respected insider who had played an important and varied role in the game’s expansion after a move from Melbourne for “a couple of years” that became permanent.

Melbourne-born and bred, Russ was a footballing product of the Ormond Amateurs, where he won his only premiership, before playing at South Melbourne in 1975-76. It wasn’t quite a Hall of Fame AFL career – eight games for eight losses, two by 100 points, and one goal. He was player #1027 on the Swans all-time playing list – four after #1023 and Team of the Century champion Mark Browning and four before #1031 and Brownlow Medallist Graham Teasdale.

The highlight was a 20-possession debut against Richmond at the MCG in Round 5 1975 in a side coached by Graeme John which included such luminaries as Browning, Peter Bedford, Steve Hoffman, Greg Lambert, David McLeish, Gary Brice, Norm Goss and Denis Pagan in Russell Cook’s 150th game.

Russ started the 1977 pre-season at South but after a couple of untimely injuries and an attitude he admits wasn’t perfect, he was cut. His big-time dream was over and replaced by a wish that he’d applied himself a little better.  It’s a lesson that lived with him forever and which he passed on willingly.

He played about 100 games with Caulfield in the VFA First Division, was twice runner-up in the best and fairest, and wore the Light Blue V of the VFA representative side against Queensland at the Gabba in 1978 when he was directly opposed to Barry Karklis, later to win the Grogan Medal and a spot in the Queensland Hall of Fame.

In his sixth and eighth games with South Melbourne in 1976, he was a teammate of John Blair. Unknowingly, they were near neighbours growing up in south-east Melbourne, Russ at Clayton and Blair at Noble Park, and became great mates. So much so that after Blair took over as Morningside captain-coach in 1981 Russ was a boom recruit in 1982.

It was the start of a whole new career, and the best move he ever made. He played about 100  games for Morningside from 1982-85 for three grand final losses and a preliminary final loss, won the Panthers best and fairest in 1983, was runner-up once and third twice.

He became not just a regular Queensland representative, but a key figure. He played in the 1982 Commonwealth Games exhibition match at the Gabba and the winning Escort Shield/Foster’s Shield teams against NSW, ACT and Tasmania of 1983-84-85 that were critical in the birth of the Brisbane Bears in 1987.

Only two Queensland players played in all nine games – Marc Housley and Russ – and none were better-performed than the always-running Morningside midfielder. “It was a fantastic time … a lot of great players who wore the ‘Big Q’ jumper for the right reasons and an equally good coaching staff and support crew,” he said.

“We also played a lot of games against VFL sides and the nucleus of the team was like a really tight and successful club side … guys who became long-time good friends who still enjoy catching up whenever it happens.”

Such was the Russ respect that when the Bears license was issued, and a group of Queensland players were assembled ahead of the arrival of the southern players, he shared coaching responsibilities at the University of Queensland with fellow State team star Kevin O’Keeffe. A member of the inner-sanctum with Knights, football chief Shane O’Sullivan, assistant-coach Mark Maclure and CEO Ken Murphy, he was the Bears’ Brisbane-based match day runner for the club’s two years and host of clandestine selection meetings.

Thereafter he was a 20-year volunteer at Morningside in and around commitments with wife Kerrie, who had moved with him from Melbourne, and their four sons – Jayden (38), Jackson (36), Max (33) and Lachlan (31). A Panthers coach an Under 14-16-18 and Reserves level, he said, “I never wanted to coach the seniors.” He was a coach at Villanova and Churchie at varying times, a football manager, selector and anything else necessary.

Russ’ son Lachlan played 110 games at Morningside, was a Queensland representative at Under-18, Under-23 and Open level against, ironically, the VFA, and won the Joe Grant Medal in Morningside’s 2014 premiership. Lachlan also won another Premiership in 2020. Jayden played State 18’s and about 50 games at Morningside but was a national level distance runner, qualifying for the world junior championships and earning a scholarship to Iowa State University in the US. Max played to Under 18s level before shoulder troubles ended his football career, and Jackson was a rugby player.

A qualified graphic designer, Russ worked in the world of advertising agencies as a creative director, with heavyweights Mojo and Clemengers among his employers before he established his own business. But it all stopped instantly on 14 November 2020 when Kerrie, a former Queensland and Australian representative in touch football and wife of now 42 years, had a major stroke. He became a full-time carer. What did he do when she had recovered sufficiently? He went back as Morningside chairman of selectors in 2023 ahead of the arrival of their first grandchild in August.

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