IN A TURBULENT career that spanned four clubs in little more than six seasons, Mark "Jacko" Jackson often found trouble because he challenged authority.
So it's probably fitting that the task of interviewing the former clown prince of football should also prove challenging.
Just making contact with the elusive 54-year-old required some digging, let alone persuading him to agree to an interview, and then the interview itself.
But the effort was worth it, resulting in a provocative, always entertaining chat that left a lingering feeling of what-the-hell-was-that?
Few would expect anything less from Jackson, a self-styled former footballer, singer, celebrity boxer, TV ad sensation, actor and raconteur.
Jackson and his four former AFL/VFL clubs (Richmond, Melbourne, St Kilda and Geelong) haven't remained in contact – understandable given their testy relationships – but a call to Warwick Capper provides the breakthrough.
The fellow "fool forward" – that's the title of Capper's 2005 autobiography – has for years performed with Jackson and former Carlton star Peter Bosustow in a comedy roadshow. They do up to 70 shows a year at football clubs around the country.
Capper doesn't have a contact number for Jackson, who he says "changes his phone number more than he changes his jocks".
Capper also jokes that Jackson has been in hiding on the Gold Coast since October, when the late criminal Mark Brandon "Chopper" Read – another former roadshow colleague – mentioned Jackson's name during an alleged murder confession in his final interview on Nine's Sixty Minutes. (At the time, Jackson angrily dismissed Read's claims as "fairytales" and demanded an apology from Nine.)
Capper asks: "Why do you want to speak to Jacko when you could speak to 'The Wiz'? I'm much better looking, more intelligent and I've got a much bigger fan base."
He says "The Buzz" (Bosustow) would have a number for Jackson. And he does, but suggests treading carefully because Jackson isn't exactly enamoured with the AFL or the modern game.
This proves an understatement.
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From the outset it feels like the telephone conversation could end at any moment. However, Jackson eventually agrees to share his views on the game.
(For the sake of decorum, we've replaced a particular expletive with the Alf Stewart refrain: "flamin'".)
"OK, shoot," Jackson demands. "I haven't got much flamin' time."
With little prompting, Jackson launches into an anti-AFL monologue. He says he doesn’t watch the game, and hasn’t for years, and only ever talks footy during his comedy routines, "apart from answering your flamin' stupid questions right now".
Jackson bemoans a lack of football showmen. He blames, among other things, the suppression of individuality, and rule changes that have "sanitised" the game.
"There should be a hall of fame for characters because they've BUILT the flamin' game. They're the DRAWCARDS that people PAY TO WATCH," he says. "But WHERE have all the flamin' characters gone?
"There aren't any modern-day versions of guys like 'Fabulous' Phil Carman, (Peter) 'Crackers' Keenan, 'Slammin' Sam Kekovich and the Rolls Royce of entertainment and flair, Brent Crosswell."
Jackson prided himself on being an entertainer. A line in his 1985 hit single I'm An Individual went: "Some say I'm a genius, to others I'm a loon," and he was certainly compulsive viewing.
Footy fans too young to have seen Jackson play would be gobsmacked by YouTube packages that show him gesticulating to spectators, dancing, blowing kisses, doing a handstand, intimidating and taunting opponents, flashing the ball in their direction before kicking a goal, spinning the ball on one finger, throwing a beer can back over the fence … and more.
"I did my job for footy," he says.
Asked how he would handle the modern game with all of its supposed restrictions, Jackson declares that he would not only survive but thrive.
"I'd be bigger than the Bee Gees," he says.
Care to elaborate?
"Well it's pretty flamin' obvious: I'd microscope the rule book and then I'd CUT TO THE LINE. I'd try to give the public something they haven't SEEN before.
"There's still some latitude there, but no one's flamin' COACHING it. And no one is putting up their hand and saying characters are GOOD FOR THE GAME.
"It's like the rest of society – we've become a country of flamin' DO-GOODERS.
"The game NEEDS characters. The fans LOVE 'em, and they love to HATE 'em – either way, THE GAME WINS. But these days you're not allowed to have a flamin' HAIR out of place."
For a man who has often courted publicity and controversy, Jackson is determined to keep his private life just that. But after warming up, he gradually reveals more about himself.
The twice-married Jackson says he has "a beautiful young wife" and a few children. He didn't play enough games at any of his clubs for his two school-aged boys to be eligible for father-son selection, but Jackson says he won’t be encouraging them to play footy anyway.
Statements are gradually replaced by stories.
Mark Jackson doing what it is that Mark Jackson does. Picture: AFL Media.
Jackson also begins to laugh hard and often, and at times it's a villainous laugh, the kind that came naturally while playing heavies in his brief TV and film career.
He says he was "never a company man", no surprise given he was raised in "a big, hardcore Labor family" in which his father and grandfather were trade unionists.
Jackson, who grew up with four sisters and a brother, left Mitcham Tech at 14.
"I went back there once and it was a flamin' SHOPPING CENTRE. HAHAHAHAHA. I should've stayed there a bit longer to improve my English, but instead I became one of the youngest apprentices ever in Melbourne."
Jackson was a product of Richmond's under-19s: "We were like a MINI-TERRORIST group. You'd TEAR SOMEONE'S HEAD OFF for that club."
The Tigers' thirds coach Don Davenport was one of the few coaches Jackson respected.
"I HATED HIS GUTS, probably because he was a flamin' SCHOOLTEACHER at Scotch College, but he was one of the GREATEST COACHES of ALL TIME," he says.
Farmed out to WAFL club South Fremantle at 19 in 1979, Jackson was insurance for undersized spearhead Ray Bauskis but didn't like playing second fiddle.
"Ray had MY SPOT, so he copped the full implementation of the Richmond teachings in that you TRAIN HOW YOU PLAY. I was supposed to protect him, but I missed. Unfortunately Ray's ankle broke in four places. I wasn't the most loveable teammate. HAHAHAHAHA."
Jackson was sacked at a team meeting the night before the second semi-final, and had a fight with coach Mal Brown in the carpark.
"I hit him over the head with a bit of three-by-two. HAHAHAHAHA."
Jackson had no qualms belting teammates himself. In a Melbourne intra-club match in 1982 he flattened his skipper Robbie Flower with a fist to the head in a marking contest.
"Both sides TURNED on me. Barassi races in, all piss and wind, and says, 'WHAT did you do THAT for?' I said, "That's the WAY I PLAY.' HAHAHAHAHAHA."
Jackson explains that this brutal tactic was within the rules in those days, and that he would often make an early statement to opponents in the same manner.
"I had UNBELIEVABLE success with that technique," he says.
Jackson might well have enjoyed unbelievable success full stop had he avoided trouble.
He was far more than simply an entertainer – he could seriously play the game, and at his best was a match-winner.
Jackson's 82-game career netted 308 goals, at an average of 3.76 a game and a superb conversion rate of 68.14 per cent.
It wasn't until his 80th game that he was first held goalless – a League record.
"The record speaks for itself – just under four goals a game in POOR sides," he says.
"And for all the antics I was still a professional – first to training and last to leave. My coaches would tell you that.
"I knew what I had to do: be strong and kick straight. And that's what I did.
"Strength-wise my only worry was (Richmond's) Alan Martello, but he usually didn't play on me. And I was the most ACCURATE flamin' kick that's ever played. I taught (Tony) Lockett how to set up (for goal) when he was in the twos. I spent hours with him. He'd flamin' tell you that."
Mark Jackson preparing to pounce as the boys in blue keep one nervous eye on the game. Photo: AFL Media.
After two years out of the AFL/VFL, Jackson was set to join a fifth club, the Sydney Swans, in 1988 as a replacement for Capper, who had joined the Brisbane Bears. Jackson would be reunited with Tom Hafey, who had coached him for two seasons at Geelong. The move never eventuated, and Jackson believes the League stepped in to prevent it.
Jackson says Hafey is the only person he has remained in contact with from his former clubs. When asked how he's going, Jackson even uses a Hafeyism: "Sensational and getting better."
Neither felt that way after the explosive Hawthorn-Geelong clash at Princes Park in 1985.
Most attention focused on Leigh Matthews' infamous hit on Neville Bruns, but Jackson, who contributed a game-high four goals in a losing side, was roundly blamed for the mayhem. He was suspended for eight matches after being found guilty of striking direct opponent Chris Langford (twice), Gary Ayres and Chris Mew.
Jackson admits to being the instigator - "I was looking at eight weeks' rehabilitation for a pinched cartilage, so I was going out with a BANG".
The night Jackson was suspended, his father George died from a heart attack.
"The next day someone wrote in the paper that I BROUGHT ON Dad's heart attack," he recalls. "Yeah, Dad's death had nothing to do with the fact he SMOKED two packs a day, DRANK LIKE A MACHINE and had a HOLE in his heart and was on librium. No, that would take some flamin' RESEARCH."
Jackson says there were other misconceptions about his financial situation. Despite talk of lucrative deals, he insists he "didn't make a zac out of footy".
"I made clubs MILLIONS in membership tickets and gate takings but I cost them NOTHING," he says. "The BIGGEST contract I got was $13,000, and that year I got FINED $18,500. When I left footy I was in the RED. I had to make my money OUTSIDE footy, which I did with my personality."
An unlikely singing career resulted in an even more unlikely hit song, I'm An Individual, which was released on the eve of the 1985 season.
"I couldn’t sing but jeez I could scream," he says. "HAHAHAHAHA!"
The following year Jackson became the face of Energizer batteries in Australia and later the United States.
"EVERY DAY people still yell out: 'Oy!' It even happened when I was in the flamin' toilet at STONEHENGE," he says. "I gave top value for money, but other companies pay a lot for other sportspeople who give flamin' NOTHING."
Jackson also appeared in short-lived US TV series The Highwayman.
"I had America BY THE BALLS for 15 minutes. That's more than what a lot of sportspeople can say," he says.
Of his diverse employment history, Jackson says: "A motto I heard in business was, 'If you try 100 things, one of them HAS to work.' Well, I'd like to BREAK THE FLAMIN' ARM of the man who said that. HAHAHAHAHA.
"… I've always lived on my wits and I'll keep doing it until I hit the box."
So how would Jackson like to be remembered by footy fans?
"Flamin' hell, mate – haven't you been listening? I couldn't care less if they DON'T remember me. But I reckon a few might. HAHAHAHAHAHA."
SIX POINTERS with Mark Jackson
What do you like most about the game?
"Flamin' nothing. It's not the be-all-and-end-all. I laugh about how flamin' serious people take it. The world's a flamin' big place – you've got to get out more. I'd rather be sitting on a gold tenement on the Alaskan-Canadian border in the middle of winter, worrying about flamin' grizzly bears. That's the greatest place on earth, and far more exciting than any flamin' game of footy I played."
What don't you like?
"How long have you got? The game they’re playing now isn’t the game I played. And it was a game, not a flamin' business. The game has been hijacked and it doesn’t give the public a fair go. Where are the flamin' entertainers? The game is sterile and as dry as salt. They’re paying big money, which I think is great, but at the same time players are squeezed so hard in their contracts that they’re not allowed to have a flamin' personality, and it affects the entertainment."
What would you change about the game?
"If I was in charge of the AFL I'd do the job in an honorary capacity, so I wouldn't take a wage. That $1 million a year could be used to prop up a country league that's in trouble. I'd put more money into local clubs rather than expansion teams and international rubbish. And the rules of the game should be protected against changes by the National Trust."
Favourite player and why?
"Don't have one. Don't even watch the flamin' game."
How many operations have you had?
"No issues. I'm sensational and getting better."
How will your former clubs – Richmond, Melbourne, St Kilda and Geelong – go next year?
"Don't flamin' know and don't flamin' care. None of them have ever asked me back and if they did I'm not sure I'd go back anyway."