Collingwood Cult Figures: Dannie Seow
By: Glenn McFarlane, Herald Sun journalist and Collingwood historian.
When Leigh Matthews took over as Collingwood coach less than a month into the 1986 season, he promised to unveil a host of young players in the quest for that elusive 14th flag.
One of the players he had in mind was a teenager from Montmorency, who had originally been recruited to the club as a 14-year-old, and who had not only undoubted talent, but also an interesting back story.
His name was Dannie Seow, and he would become a firm Magpie favourite, even if his time in black and white was all too brief.
Back in the mid-1980s, Australia’s cultural diversity was nothing like it is today, and Collingwood fans were attracted to Seow as much for his heritage as his capabilities in Black and White.
Seow had been born in Singapore, to a father with Chinese heritage, and a mother with Scottish, Spanish and Irish family links. By the time he was five, though, he was not only growing up in Australia, but doing so as a young Collingwood supporter who wold come to have a natural affinity with the VFL football.
He thought it was a joke when Magpie scouts picked him out as a teenager playing for the Montmorency Junior Football League, in the Collingwood stronghold of the Diamond Valley. But after gaining permission from his mother, he took the club up on the offer of trying out in the preseason.
That meant getting the train from Montmorency Station and heading into Victoria Park, but it wasn’t long before Seow was playing in the Under 19s and the Reserves as his progression in Black and White rolled on.
He made representative teams, playing Teal Cup and touring Ireland with an Australian Schoolboys’ team that included the likes of Ross Lyon, Garry Lyon, Stephen Silvagni and another young bloke named Ronnie McKeown.
Seow made his VFL debut in Matthews’ fourth game as senior coach, in round seven, 1986. And while he wouldn’t be a part of that famous day four-and-a-half years later when the Colliwobbles were finally expunged, he would still be remembered fondly by Magpies fans long after he left the club.
Explaining his link to the Collingwood supporters in an interview with the Coodabeen Champions in March 2016 – almost 30 years from that debut game – Seow said: “The Collingwood supporters were really great, especially because I grew up there. They were fantastic to me … after training you could be coming out the rooms and they would always be there waiting for you, to sign an autograph or tell you something.”
“It is amazing how Collingwood supporters helped the team get through games to win. Just that sound coming from the Collingwood supporters really helped us back then.”
His first game came against arch rivals Carlton at Victoria Park, but not even the supporters that day could get the team over the line.
Seow, recruited as a forward but who turned out to be a defender, started on the bench, but came on to play on Peter Dean. Instantly, he realised the pace of the game was faster than it had been in the reserves.
He had 11 touches, and former Richmond star Kevin Bartlett wrote in The Sun two days’ later: “(Michael) Gayfer, Seow and (Shane) Kerrison are holding down pressure defensive posts with enthusiastic play.”
He established a firm position within the team, mainly in defence, but he showed enough flexibility to switch forward at times.
In the corresponding clash with Carlton – this time in a Sunday clash at the MCG in front of 72,000 fans – he had a number of goals kicked on him by his one-time touring mate Silvagni. So Matthews shifted him forward, and Seow would end up with four goals for the game, his best return.
“Dannie had been training to prepare for punching the ball away,” Richards told the VFL tribunal. “Leigh Matthews’ method is that the backman must always punch and he emphasised that.”
“Dannie’s fault was that previously he was getting too far back to do it.”
Seow maintained he was trying to punch the ball: “I was watching the ball … and went to punch. I looked to see if the ball was over the boundary line and then thought ‘I’ve punched him’.”
Fourteen games in his debut season saw the 19-year-old win the club’s Best First Year Player, and there was great cause for optimism Seow was going to have a long and fruitful career for Collingwood.
But something happened in one of the early practice games of 1987 that would change everything, even if Seow and Collingwood didn’t realise it at the time.
He explained recently: “I hit heads with another guy, and I was actually told to keep playing, so I kept playing. Over the weeks after that, I thought I had flu or something like that.”
“I was playing fine and then we went into the season and we played Hawthorn (in round three). I was fine until maybe 15 or 20 minutes into the first quarter. Then suddenly I had pressure on my brain, I couldn’t breathe, I was short of breath and had nausea and blurred vision.
“I asked Leigh to take me off, but then I looked over and we already had two guys on the bench who couldn’t come on for the rest of the game. So I had to stay on … I was holding onto Russell Morris’ jersey.”
A portrait of Dannie Seow in 2016, as shown on his website, bodyation.com
Seow played only one more game in Black and White – a round 10 clash with West Coast – but he was determined to find out what was wrong with him.
He told the Coodabeen Champions: “I kept playing when I shouldn’t have … I ended up getting scans myself. The CAT scans didn’t show anything, but the EEG showed I had abnormal electrolysis in the brain.
“That really caused me to stop playing.”
His Collingwood career was over after 18 games and before his 21st birthday. But that wasn’t the end of the Dannie Seow story.
He secured a place at a school in Lynchburg, Virginia, before winning a scholarship to the University of North Carolina – four years after Michael Jordan graduated from there. Just as incredible given his head knock from the previous year, Seow became a defensive player on North Carolina’s gridiron team.
But AFL football was still calling, and Melbourne drafted him as the No. 13 selection in the 1989 Pre-Season Draft.
Seow played seven games for the Demons in 1989 and 1990.
After his professional football career was over, he went onto acting and modelling roles, and would work in, and set up, a number of companies abroad in media, entertainment, and massage and health/wellbeing businesses.
Seow lives in Washington DC, in the US. He still has a fondness for the Magpies three decades on from his brief time as a cult figure that might have lasted longer other than for that nasty head knock.