Imagine you’re playing in your first season of AFL football. You’re young, hungry, and impressing fans and players competition wide.
You’re playing against a team filled to the brim with premiership-winning superstars, and you’re playing on your home deck.
You’re in the ruck for the first bounce of the day. Across from you is not just one of the dominant tap rucks of the league, but a local hero returning to his home state. At 210 centimetres tall, he’s currently the tallest player in the history of the AFL.
That was the scenario facing a young Dean Cox as West Coast played North Melbourne in Round 15, 2001. The man across from him was none other than Matthew ‘Spider’ Burton.
Burton dominated that particular game, winning 36 hitouts and two Brownlow votes as North stormed to a 44-point win.
After 70 games for Fremantle, Burton arrived at North after the 1999 premiership and played 77 games across four seasons in royal blue and white, quickly garnering cult status due to his size, ability and mobility as a big man.
Since his retirement, Burton has stepped away from football but still maintains a love for the game.
This is North Media’s ‘Where Are They Now?’.
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You’re a WA boy originally and you’re back there now, when did you move back west after you finished at North?
I played for North for four years and then I stayed in Melbourne for another seven years for work. We moved back to Perth in 2011. I still go back there regularly and prior to the pandemic, I was going back once a month, but I’ve only been able to go down once since last March.
You were a pretty established AFL player at Fremantle before crossing to North, what were the biggest challenges associated with that move?
Probably the city itself, everything was relatively new. My now wife was my fiancee at the time, we were both 29 so we weren’t young and I sort of had to convince her. I knew my way around Perth, I knew a lot of people in Perth, so to open up that new network was a bit confronting at first.
Looking at the way the ruck position has changed since you played, how do you think you’d fare as a player in 2021?
Hard to know, with all due respect they’re better trained than what we were and they’re stronger. It’s a different game played in close, hopefully I’d hold my own and a few things would go my way.
There was no centre circle when I played, so blokes could line up at centre half back for the centre bounce, so I think having the circle would benefit me and having the amount of stoppages there are these days would help me to have an impact and play my role.
My role at North was really to get it to those guys like Anthony Stevens, Shannon Grant, 'Boomer' Harvey, I know I’ve missed a few here, but to expand it further I was brought in just to do that and I had to play my role for the team, my role being just to get it down to those guys so they could weave their magic.
What have you been doing since your footballing career ended?
When I was still playing for North Melbourne I started doing some work experience in financial advice. I was doing the study and I moved into that business after I retired. I still have quite a few clients based in Melbourne so I get back there regularly. It was brilliant the way I was able to go off and do my work experience while I was playing. On the days off or afternoons off when we didn’t have training I could start getting into that industry when I retired.
Are you still involved with the football in any capacity?
I’m not really involved in footy, I’ve got four daughters who were all born in Victoria but none of them play footy, they play netball. I use football as a form of relaxation and a way to socially catch up with people if I ever go.
Would you classify yourself as a North supporter having also played for Fremantle?
I don’t get caught up in footy all that much, I love North and I was ruck coach for Freo when I came back here. I just use it as a social avenue these days, but the footy club was awesome for me and I still love football.
Do you have any favourite players on the list at the moment, or anyone you enjoy watching?
I love watching 'Goldy' (Todd Goldstein) and the other rucks. He’s had a phenomenal career, I’m stoked for him with how well he’s done and the longevity he’s had. He’s played a lot of games in a tough position. Mainly the rucks and the game has obviously changed quite a bit, it’s been coming up to 20 years since I retired and I just like watching good footy. 'Boomer' would be another player I enjoyed watching and it was great that he was able to play for so long, and I always like to follow any West Australians that go over and play for North.
If you could sum up your time at North Melbourne in a few sentences, how would you?
I learnt some really big life lessons at the club. First and foremost, the change room wasn’t just full of good footballers, but also good people, and the coaching staff was awesome. I came out of my time at North Melbourne knowing that people are the most important tool, and the other thing that shocked me was there was a ‘no excuses’ mentality. People would accept the blame, if they played poorly for example the player would accept their own responsibility for the way they played.
The club is seeking past players, who have represented North Melbourne at any level, to be part of the association.
If you are a past player, or know someone that would like to be part of the Association, please fill in the form below and a representative from the club will be in touch with further information.
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