I’ve seen a lot of live football games in the fifty years I’ve been following Aussie Rules, probably north of 800. Over those the best players I’ve seen ‘live” have been Barry Cable, Brian Peake and Tony Lockett. Given most of those games involved East Fremantle or the Sydney Swans it’s no surprise two of the three I’ve nominated played for those clubs. Nobody disputes Lockett’s credentials, and the Victorians saw enough of Cable to concede his class yet Brian Peake’s ability is never recognised, and even upon his election to the AFL Hall of Fame, the AFL website’s recap on his career was that he was best remembered for being flown to Kardinya Park in a helicopter. Nobody would dispute that’s a vivid memory but no way is that why he is “best” remembered. Not by me at least.
Brian Peake is best remembered by me as being the most dominant and outstanding player in those games that featured the best of the best, grand finals and interstate games. In 1974 as a youngster he starred in East Fremantle’s premiership win over Perth. Only recently I re-watched that game and realised for the first time just how well Peake played. The Simpson Medal that day was a tie between David Pretty and Gary Gibellini and yet with the benefit of a replay I feel now that Peake was best on ground. In 1977 Peake broke his arm in the last qualifying game of the season and yet in an incredible act of courage he was back out there in the grand final playing in an arm guard. While it wasn’t a great game from the champion he was one of East’s best on a day we were flogged. In 1979 he led East Fremantle from the first semi-final to win the grand-final with dominating displays. In between Peake played on a wing in a WA v Victoria interstate game at Waverly. I recall this game well because the psychopathic teenage Collingwood supporter behind me kept thumping me in the back and calling me a cunt even though the Vics were up by 15 goals. Tony Durant my Pommy guitarist turned around and politely asked him to stop and the psycho shaped to punch him. With lightening, I might say Peake-like reflexes, I rammed my pie into his face. Every WA player was thrashed that day – except Peake – who had far the better of dual Brownlow player Keith Greig. But in the 1979 carnival in Perth Peake did not only beat every opponent on whom he played, he eviscerated them. His game against the Vics in 1979 was the most dominating performance I have ever seen in a state game. He made poor Wayne Schimmelbusch look like a first gamer. He also led WA to its first ever win over SA in Adelaide. The perception is he was a failure at Geelong, and there is no doubt he failed to reach the high expectations of him, however he played better than given credit for. In his first year he arrived mid-season, with no training with team mates and yet still polled 7 Brownlow votes from 10 games. The following year he polled 4 votes which was equal fourth. Once he was relegated to a half forward flank though, his performances suffered. When he returned to East Fremantle he picked up where he left off and at the end of his career was still able to demolish Victoria from full-forward.
Peake was one of the first of the big bodied mid-fielders. His courage echoed Francis Bourke’s but he was an outstanding mark and kick. Any football afficiando will tell you the hardest skill in football is to run hard at the ball carrier, jump and take a mark overhead under full pressure, yet this was Peake’s specialty. I have never seen a player better able to do this than Brian Peake, he was Dunstall like, and Dunstall was a full-forward par-excellence. The closest player I can match him to of more recent times is Michael Voss, although Peake was more dangerous forward. Patrick Dangerfield is probably closest to Peake of current day players.
Brian Peake is one of AFL’s greatest players and I congratulate him on his well-deserved honour.