With communication down, the club almost lost out on what would become a favorite son. It was only Dan Last's persistence that made sure this didn't eventuate. Speaking with him before his final game with the club, Last explained the close call.
"When I first arrived in Japan in early 2011 I promptly sent an inquiry via the Goannas website... No one got back to me! A year later I gave it another crack and thankfully ex-president Dan Aktins got back to me and I joined my first training session in April 2012".
6 years later, it's time to farewell the concrete jungle for more sandy plains in Dubai and this week was good chance for Last to sit down and reflect on his early days.
"Some of my earliest memories include having my first kick with your good self at my first training session. Sneaking a goal on debut from a holding the ball free kick in the goal square. I didn't kick another goal until well into the next season after 17 straight behinds.
"I'll also remember fondly long train rides back to Kita-ku from training with Big Trav (Travis Wilson)... in complete silence. Being welcomed to the club so warmly from the elder statesmen and women at the time. Appsy (Peter Apps) took me under his wing once he found out there was another Saint supporter within earshot.
"Dan McGrath drove me home after my first game, Danno Atkins and Loz Parker took me surfing and gave me my snowboards. Robbie Scarlett and Milts (Michael Milton) were always keen for a pint and parmy. Good times!"
So has it hit home yet that next weekend would be the final time pulling on the red and white?
"I don't think it has really sunk in yet. But when I get on the plane out of here I know that I'll be feeling very sad to be leaving such a great team and my best mates.
"The Goannas have given me so many opportunities and such brilliant support over the last six years. Whether that be material stuff like hand me downs when we had our daughter, or the leg ups with my career through connections and chances to grow as a leader through committee roles. In addition, my entire Japanese social circle essentially is centred around the Goannas. What started out as an opportunity to have a kick became the people most important to me in the country."
You could tell that sentiment is shared with his fellow team mates who have gone into battle with him each weekend. Peter Chalmers, who took over the captaincy this year from Last himself, spoke openly earlier in the week about what a loss Last will be for him personally.
"When I first reached out to the Goannas five years ago, Lasty turned up to a Bombers game at Hobs (the Goannas club house) to welcome me. On the day of my first training session, even though I was late, he waited at the station to show me the way to the ground. More recently, he was there to help me move house when I was at my lowest point.
"He’s one of the most sincere and generous people I’ve ever had the privilege to meet. You always know with him that, despite whatever YouTube channel he’s peddling or one-liner he’s recycling, at the heart of Dan Last is an intuitive person who cares deeply for those around him. In this transient expat society, where people come and go and are eventually forgotten, Dan is a friend for life."
Former co-captain with Dan and current Goannas coach, Sam Ghirardello, spoke in kind when I caught up with him during the week:
"Every club has that one guy that really puts in on the field, and that one guy that really puts in off it - we’ve always had both in Dan. He’s the heart and soul of the club, a best mate to all, and an amazing father and husband at the same time. St Kilda will win their 2nd premiership before you find a better bloke. It’s been a pleasure playing with him and he will be sorely missed."
Sentiment aside, it is easy to forget the former club president and captain's football capabilities. Known for his elite endurance and one-percenters, the current club president Tom Bowes was eager to remind the wider public of this fact.
"A lot of people will want to talk about Dan as the ultimate friend or the ultimate club man but we shouldn’t forget his quality as a player. His endurance, closing speed and tackling ability are pretty rare at any level of the game. His effort and pressure were game changers too many times to count. Sometimes when clear on goal he’s been known to handball to an opponent, catch him holding the ball, then miss the set shot.
"It’s not the most efficient but it looks great on Gordon’s stat sheet."
When asked to his assess his own career, Last typically played down his own body of work.
"Plenty more talk the talk than walk the walk - I think I was the first ever captain to start a grand final on the bench!
"But I think I always put the team first; that is probably why when the game is in the clinches I am usually first to sub myself off and get someone more talented on!"
Indeed, one of Last's traits has been his will to put his body on the line at every contest which has seem him embroiled in multiple debates with club neurologist Doug Bonham about whether it would be prudent for him to wear a concussion helmet during matches.
"I think I have had three concussions in games and two in Roppongi.
"During the Grand Final when I was concussed, I remember trying to smother the ball with my hands at the start of the second quarter, but, like many of my marks it slipped straight through my fingers and clocked me right in the temple. I came off immediately, however, found myself back on after a couple of minutes. I remember looking up at the YCAC restaurant and seeing stars flying everywhere and then forgetting which way we were going. I thought that I better have a proper spell at this point. I don't remember anything from the rest of the game.
"When I finally figured out where I was the game was all but over and we were up by forty points. I apparently had to ask Bretty Whyborn if we were winning about 5 times. I am still upset that I spent the evening celebrating in the emergency room while the rest of the boys ran amuck in Muse (Goannas-approved club)!"
3 premierships and 4 grand finals in six years is testament to the strength of the team Last has helped oversee during his time at the club. Out of the three times reaching the summit in JAFL footy, he still sees the first taste of success as perhaps his finest hour.
"Back-to-back in 2015-16 was pretty special! To hold the cup up as Captain was a dream come true, even if I hardly had a touch in one game and got concussed in the other. So I think I will have to say the first flag in 2012 is my favorite one.
"I was actually involved in the contest that got us over the line and tapped the ball on to Trav Wilson who delivered the 'handpass from God' for Dan McGrath's goal! Also I ripped my bicep muscle off my bone that game and didn't notice until the pain from my hangover celebrating subsided the next evening!"
In somewhat of a golden era for the JAFL, the past six years had seen some champions grace the field. His brother Andrew (Firsty) Last one particular example. In fact, when Dan Last made the All-Japan team in 2016, most thought the JAFL body mixed the both of them up. Asked about some of the best in Japan on and off-field, Last could certainly reel off some impressive names.
"Talking about the best I've played with, there are some great players to choose from. Honourable mentions to Rob Scarlett, Nick Payne, Brett Whyborn and Firsty, but I reckon Gordon Jones held the rare distinction of being the best footballer and worst coach I played with at the same time. Less defensive zones, more scratch matches!
"With opposition players, I still think that I have only ever been able to tackle Michito Sasaki in the wet! He is hands down the best in the business in Japan.
"Off-field, it had to be a tie between Evan Kerr and Owen 'Boots' Kearney - both card carrying brats.
"Also, in terms of tours, I was a big fan of Shanghai last year unlike most. But you would have to be a Latvian Evangelical to not have had the time of your life at the Sendai Beach House tour of 2016!"
With all the success and good times, the hard work in keeping the club afloat could sometimes be easily overlooked. The amount of time volunteered into organizing club functions, keeping finances afloat, and the bits and pieces that need doing are tasks too time-consuming for most who run busy lives in one of the busiest cities in the world. This is where Last will be a huge loss for the club who are hoping other newer members will be able to take the slack in the post-Last era.
"Toughest period as a Goanna was getting the Ball at the Westin over the line in my year as president. It felt like months of blood sweat and tears went into that one! Thankfully it was a ripping party.
"One thing that doesn't sit well with me is now that my daughter is the perfect age for Auskick I regret that we haven't pushed hard enough to build Goannas Auskick or increase women's involvement. I look forward to seeing these take off for the Goannas."
So, the question on the minds of most, is what are the chances of a future Goannas return for their favorite son?
"Very high! Even if it is as a touring Goanna at an Asian Champs, I'll be back!
"I am forever grateful for the good times I have had with the Goannas in Japan. A massive thanks to everyone who has been part of my journey as a footy-lover here, especially to the JAFL for their commitment to running such a great competition for us to take part in.
"To the boys in the red and white, the couple hours having a kick each weekend has been the highlight of my week for the last six years. My teammates have become my best mates and no matter how many other teams I play for in the future the Goos will always be number 1!"
written by Oceans Huynh