Former Grand Final rivals rejoice and recreate guernsey swapping tradition

By Ant Wingard   @AntWingard

Forty-three years after their last encounter on the field, two former Queensland footballers rekindled their friendship this week, re-exchanging a tradition from yesteryear.

Former Mayne Tiger, Shane Johnson, and former Windsor Zillmere Eagle, Paul Curtain, rejoiced over coffee some four decades after their two sides faced off in the big dance.

The stage was the 1975 QAFL Grand Final and Johnson and Curtain, for their respective sides, played on each other for the entirety of the game’s duration.

Eventually, it was Curtain’s Eagles who triumphed over Johnson’s Tigers in the first QAFL Grand Final to be broadcast in colour on television.

After the final siren, the pair swapped guernseys as was tradition throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s.

The pair kept one another’s guernseys since that day – where over 10,000 strong crowd witnessed the Eagles’ 20.8 (128) to 13.16 (94) triumph, but after Johnson tracked down Curtain earlier this year, the pair met up to bask in their former glory days on the field.

Now, with rivalries removed from the equation, Johnson and Curtain agreed to meet up and exchanged their football relics once again.

“We caught up and it was a wonderful hour and a half. We talked about the game and had a lot of laughs,” Johnson told following their catch up.

“It’s what football is all about.”

Johnson stumbled across the Windsor Zillmere strip while cleaning around the house and then had the task of tracking down Curtain, who assumed his prized premiership guernsey had merely been lost.

But through former the Windsor Zillmere club president, Johnson was able to reach his former opposition.

“It didn’t take long to find him and when I mentioned it to him, he was just ecstatic to get his premiership jumper back,” Johnson recalled.

Johnson was adamant to get the guernsey returned to Curtain, joking the playing gear meant more significance to him rather than his own did.

“I was devastated that we lost the Grand Final so I didn’t care if I saw mine ever again.”

“We probably had eight or ten possessions each. I played at half-back and he played across half-forward. Neither of us really influenced the game in anyway.”

Curtain played just over 100 QAFL senior games for Windsor Zillmere after moving up from Melbourne on an adventure.

He initially retired at the end of the premiership win in 1975, but was convinced to return after a 12-month hiatus because he was on 89 games.

Curtain notched up his 100-game milestone in the 1977 season which included a successful change to full-back, retiring again at season’s end.

Johnson, who was just 21 in the 1975 Grand Final having relocated from Tasmania prior to that season, played 123 games for Mayne and left at the end of 1981.

Following his Mayne stint, Johnson moved to the Sunshine Coast where he coached Maroochydore to premiership glory – a consolation for missing the Mayne premiership of 1982.

Johnson – a true footballer at heart – implored the best thing about the great game was not the highs and lows of wins and losses, but from the friendships, just like his with Curtain, you make along the way.

“We often hear about all of the elite footballers and the talent programs at the top end of the sport, but the heart of football is playing against people and the friendships and networks you build,” he said.

The guernsey swapping tradition began in the VFL during the 1960’s and lasted in football leagues around the country until as late as the 1980’s.

Pictures of Darryl Baldock donning a Collingwood guernsey to raise St Kila’s only VFL premiership and Dermott Brereton in a South Australian one after the 1988 State of Origin game invoke some of the strangest images in the sports history.

But it’s the traditions like these and the stories they hold which makes the sport all that much better.

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