A key member of the West Coast Eagles football operations has called time on his remarkable career.
Even the keenest of football aficionados wouldn’t know him if they saw him on the street, but opposition analyst John Wardrop was a key piece of the jigsaw that came together to win the club’s fourth flag.
He was not steering the ship like the public faces of the campaign – chief executive officer Trevor Nisbett, General Manager Football Craig Vozzo or Senior Coach Adam Simpson – but he was crucial in navigating the course.
After 32 years at the elite level, Wardrop will this week make his exit, a departure that was planned 12 months ago but announced to players and staff this week.
Wardrop began his second incarnation at the Eagles in 2016 and his intelligence on opposition methods armed coaches and players with the tools required to understand the inner workings of opposition game plans.
He studied opponents in finite detail, breaking down their methodology and relayed that information to Simpson, his coaching staff and the players as they prepared for their weekly battle.
His journey started in 1986 when close mate – Richmond great Michael Roach – recommended the Tigers use his skills. He worked with Tony Jewell for a couple of years and was then football manager for a further two years when Kevin Bartlett was senior coach.
After a brief hiatus from the game, he was recruited by Nisbett, Eagles’ senior coach Mick Malthouse and Melbourne manager Stephen Nash, as opposition analyst in 1994. He remained in that role until 1999, following Malthouse, a close friend and mentor, to Collingwood.
He served the Pies until 2007 when the next phase of his football journey took him to Hawthorn, working with Alastair Clarkson. He was an important part of premierships with the Hawks in 2008 and then the hat-trick of flags in 2013-14-15.
It was when he was at Hawthorn that he formed a relationship with Simpson, who was cutting his coaching teeth.
When the Eagles completed a forensic review of their season, after losing the 2015 grand final to the Hawks, Simpson recommended that the club target Wardrop to assist it in the quest to make the quantum leap from grand finalist to premier.
The man considered the guru of opposition analysts was back in the Eagles nest and it was no coincidence the club again tasted success and have played finals football in each of the 10 seasons, across two stints, he has been here.
“I was with West Coast from 1994-1999 and then followed Mick to Collingwood,” Wardrop reflected.
“They didn’t have anyone full-time in oppo, so that was a bit of a first and a challenge. The Pies were just starting to get it together off-field, but on-field still had a bit work to do.
“We made a grand final in ‘02 which is still a highlight, even though we lost. We probably had no right to even be in a granny with the list we had. In 03 we made it again but weren’t good enough.
“In ’07 I had the opportunity to go to Hawthorn. I had a chat to Mark Evans and Clarko and they hadn’t had anyone in oppo full time either, so that was another challenge. Chris Pelchen originally approached me and that was just an amazing experience because in ‘08, my first year, we actually won the flag.
“Again, some would say because of the list we had, we probably had no right to win it, but we were very efficient and just played great footy.
“That was special and then we made grand finals, prelims and then finally got to win 13-14-15, but that was a great experience.
“I learnt a lot off Mick and that was terrific. But then to go to Hawthorn and learn off Clarko, who did it differently was another great experience.
“I met Simmo at Hawthorn and then got the opportunity to come to West Coast. I was in my mid-50s so that was a bit of a surprise. To then come over and work for the club in Perth, and see how difficult an assignment it is – not only win interstate every week – but the logistics of it, it is just a really difficult contract.
“To constantly make finals and then to salute in ’18 after really being behind the eight ball like that, will be a memory for the rest of my life. That was an incredible achievement to be a part of.”
After 32 years in the game, Wardrop says it’s the right time to take a step back spend time with family.
“People outside of the game don’t understand the sacrifices that family make for each of us to be involved,” Wardrop said. “It’s never probably the time and if it’s the time it’s probably too late.
“My son, Justin (who lives in Melbourne) has had a dad in footy all his life. He has given up an enormous amount and at the moment I can’t even see him, so it’s time to give a bit back and see him and his partner Maya a bit.
“Obviously the same applies to my wife. Lidia and her family have given up a lot to allow me to be in footy and for Lid to come across to WA and leave her family in Melbourne was such a selfless decision. We now want to see a lot more of WA.”
Vozzo was glowing in his tribute to Wardrop.
“You don’t simply replace people like John Wardrop,” Vozzo said. “His experience, his insights and his relationships within the football department are unique, so we will miss him greatly.
“We have had 12 months to digest and plan for his departure, so we will work towards implementing that plan. On behalf of everyone at the club, I’d like to acknowledge the wonderful contribution John has made to our club.
“John’s record is remarkable over his time in the game, being involved in clubs that played in nine grand finals for six premierships (four with Hawthorn and two with West Coast).”
So, how does one become an opposition analyst?
“Even before I was involved in footy, I went to games and looked for reasons why things happened rather than just watching,” he said. “You need that ability to look away from where the ball is and to look where guys are positioning themselves off the ball.
“So you’re looking ahead and behind the ball. As the game has evolved the technology has gone through the roof. Now you have the ability to look at the game from all angles, from either end of the ground, different television angles, wider vision so you can do all of your editing very quickly.
“The technology has allowed scouting to be done a lot more in-house. It was very difficult not going to the footy in 2020, but I was fortunate to still be involved. There are many great people I know who sadly weren’t part of the year with their clubs and I feel for them immensely.”
Finally, Wardrop was keen to acknowledge those who had presented opportunities to him – from Roach at Richmond, to Malthouse, Nisbett and Nash who coerced back into football and an association that began with the successful 1994 premiership campaign, to Clarkson, Pelchen and Evans at Hawthorn and then Simpson and Vozzo in his second stint at the Eagles.