Dedication, persistence paying off for on-fire Shark Hampson

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 11:30 AM by Chris Pike

SOMEONE with less strength of character could have easily walked away from football several times with the hurdles put in his way, but as George Hampson approaches his 100th game his quality and hard work is paying off and he couldn’t be more thankful for East Fremantle embracing him.

Hampson was always a supremely talented young footballer playing in the 14s and 15s development squads at Claremont. But two knee reconstructions when he was 16 and 18 while at Scarborough soon had him rethinking whether sticking with the game was actually worth it.

But it was coaching as a 19-year-old at Scarborough and taking the under-17s team to a Grand Final that reinvigorated his love for the game and by the time he arrived at Subiaco, he was about to embark on a dream first four years.

He won the reserves fairest and best award at Subiaco in 2011 while playing in the Grand Final in one of his four league games of the season, in a loss to Claremont. He was also named the rising star at the Lions under coach Chris Waterman.

By 2012, Hampson was one of the best young talents in the WAFL and finished third in fairest and best voting. By 2013, he won the club's leading award and then had a dream 2014 playing State football culminating in a premiership.

Hampson kicked three goals in that Grand Final win over East Perth despite tearing a hamstring early in the game and he was on top of the world. Little did he know, that would be his last game for Subiaco and it could very well have been the end of his WAFL career.

Clashes with Jarrad Schofield got to a point where despite Hampson's unbridled talent; he was never able to earn favour with the coach, with it soon becoming obvious he was no longer going to play at the Lions while he was there. 

Hampson chose to leave Subiaco for his own mental well-being and he just knew that co-existing with Schofield was no longer possible.

He didn’t know if that meant his WAFL career would be finished or not but at that stage, for the second time, he contemplated life without football. 

That was until East Fremantle came calling and after his first ever discussion with the Sharks, he felt appreciated, and nothing has ever changed in the three and-a-half years since. 

Sure, Subiaco had won the minor premiership and played in Grand Finals in each of those years Hampson has been at East Fremantle, but sometimes the bigger picture is about much more than that.

Hampson has found his second family now with those at East Fremantle and rediscovered his passion for the game after some terribly tough times despite the success he enjoyed at Subiaco. 

While injury has curtailed Hampson to 36 of a possible 68 games since joining the Sharks, he has still managed to finish in the top few in fairest and best voting each year, including being runner-up to Liam Anthony in 2016 off just 14 games. 

When up and going, he could very well be the best player in the competition. The ability to have both an influence through the midfield and forward of the ball is his greatest strength. He is showing that in 2018 despite the team only recording its second win last Saturday against Peel Thunder. 

Hampson delivered a stunning performance himself with 38 possessions, 13 tackles, 10 inside 50s, six marks and a goal against Peel but it's taken a lot of work for him to get his body right in 2018 after three frustrating seasons.

And while Hampson enjoyed the Sharks returning to the winner's list on Saturday to revive some life into their season after five straight losses, because of how strong his passion is now for East Fremantle and the support they've given him, it's all about the bigger picture.

"For the first time this year really, I feel like we could walk off the ground knowing we'd given our best for four quarters and to have a win along with that, it's a really good feeling," Hampson said.

"As happy as I was for all the players and coaching staff, I was even happier for our families, supporters and volunteers who never waiver in their support. 

"They still turn up week after week to support us no matter how we are performing on the field, and to be able to put a smile on their faces is sometimes all you need to get that perspective about why you are doing this."

Hampson will now play his 100th game in the WA Day Foundation Derby against South Fremantle at Fremantle Community Bank Oval made up of 63 at Subiaco (including one in the Foxtel Cup) and it will be his 37th at East Fremantle.

"Playing 100 games for one club is something that I guess I always dreamed of doing, but when I look back on my previous few years with some of the injury problems I've had, I didn’t actually know if I'd even get 100 games in total," he laughed.

"It has been a frustrating few years with the soft tissue problems I've been having. The biggest strength of my game is my ability to be able to run all day and keep going for the whole game, but even when I've been playing the previous couple of years I haven’t been able to do that.

"This year I have changed things up and found a good routine, Monday nights I have been getting into the gym and doing exercises and core work focused on my hamstrings. 

"That means Tuesday is a light session, but I have been getting a deep tissue massage and that along with taking magnesium and fish oil every night, it's really been helping. So by the weekend I feel fresh out there and it all seems to be working pretty well so far."

Derbies were something quite foreign to Hampson up until 2015, but now he enjoys being known as an East Fremantle person with South Fremantle the mortal enemy. 

"Growing up north of the river, I had only ever been to one derby before and really didn’t know much about them. In my first year that soon changed with two huge crowds in those first two derbies of the year and I got a taste of what it's about," Hampson said.

"Even when out in Freo to this day, you seem to get recognised & are known by if you are an East Freo or South Freo person. It's been kind of nice to see the WAFL is still a big deal in that way and it's great to be part of that rivalry now."

He is looking forward to the challenge on Monday against the Bulldogs at Fremantle Community Bank Oval with East Fremantle's form improving with the likes of Cameron Loersch, Jamie McNamara and his old friend, Nick Kommer among those back in the line-up.

"I definitely go into the game feeling like we are a chance and our whole team should be feeling like that," Hampson said. "We have a well-rounded team on the park finally and we have some confidence back into the group so I see no reason why we can't go out and play well on Monday."

Looking back on his time at Subiaco, Hampson will always treasure that four-year run he had where he accomplished all he could outside a Sandover Medal. 

By the end of both 2013 and 2014, it was somewhat of a surprise an AFL club didn't take a punt on him, though clarity from AFL recruiters provided some of the answers to that as it would seem there had been some negative comments made about him.

"I felt like I gave everything to that club and I appreciated the opportunities they gave me, even in that Grand Final, I tore my hamstring and kept playing to help the team get the ultimate success," he said.

"I've always thought your coach should be your greatest supporter and that’s what I had in my first two years at Subiaco with Chris Waterman. I still hold a great relationship with Muddy and he ended up becoming my manager along with good friend Paul Peos.

"I chose to leave the club at the start of 2015 and walk away from any future success we might have coming off that premiership all because of one person. I will be forever grateful to East Fremantle for giving me a club to go to and for treating me so well from the earliest discussions I had with them. 

"There is more to life than football and at the end of the day it’s just a game. If you can’t enjoy it you move on. I just wanted to be somewhere that I enjoyed my footy and felt like I was treated with respect. I didn’t feel like I was getting that and the difference has been night and day since going to East Freo. That motivates me to go out and give my all for the footy club."

But Hampson will always be a premiership player and fairest and best winner for the Lions and he has lifelong friends from his time playing there. 

It's hard to come out on top of an individual clash as the player against a coach, but what he's found in East Fremantle as a club, and now Rob Wiley as a coach has surpassed all his expectations.

"Rob Wiley has been amazing for me, he is a great mentor for young people and has a wonderful outlook on life," Hampson said. "Now don't get me wrong, he pushes you hard and demands you give him your all, but as a player you know that provided you do what he asks of you, he'll have your back. 

"That's all I have ever wanted from a coach and that's what I got from Muddy when I started out at Subi and now that's what I'm getting from Rob. I couldn’t have been happier with the move I have made to come down here and I definitely consider myself an East Fremantle person now and am proud to do so."