There is a lovely irony to the retro 80’s style mullet hairdo gaining attention for evergreen Hawks defender Ben Stratton. It is probably the most publicity Stratton has received during his glittering career and he seems to have even gained a bit of a cult following.
This following shows the skewed nature of the attention paid to players. Stratton has garnered more attention for showing some flash or an aspect of eccentricity than for what he means to the club and Stratton means a great deal to Hawthorn. He has been a pivotal figure throughout his 150 game career with the Hawks, yet is mostly misunderstood by the ‘experts’ covering the game. Their focus seems to be skewed and driven by tabloid mindsets and unfortunately many fans have a similar lack of clarity.
Despite being a cornerstone of the club during the Alastair Clarkson era, there are few people who already revered Stratton prior to his recent brush with cult status. He has, however, been a brick to build everything upon as well as the mortar in between when needed to bind everything together. Those who already recognised his importance paid homage to his expertise as a multi-faceted back man while adoring him for getting any job done with the minimum of fuss.
Unfortunately he rarely receives due acknowledgement for his expertise as the quintessential lock down defender, one who can blanket any type of forward. If you want to be impressed, just think of Eddie Betts, the poster child of the modern age, who is regarded as one of the best small forwards in the game’s history. Then think of his career association with Stratton. Or think back to Stratton’s blanketing job on Jack Darling, a vastly different type of attacker, in the 2015 Grand Final win against the Eagles.
Stratton is also just as efficient as the modern hybrid version of a defender. He reads the play and knows when to run to position to get free to facilitate a rebounding chain. His new hairdo is a stark contradiction to his neat and tidy skills on the field. His sacrificial acts or pivotal one percenters exude a sheer bloody-mindedness to do everything possible to benefit the team.
When crunch time arrives, Stratton is always a beacon. Just think back to the dying stages of the 2012 preliminary final against Adelaide when the game was on a knife’s edge. A rampaging Patrick Dangerfield got the ball and turned towards goal. All the hearts of the Hawk faithful sank as they were certain he would drive a nail into the coffin, reminiscent of the similar heartbreak felt after the 2011 preliminary final. Stratton then arose from a virtual grave to grasp onto Dangerfield, drag him down and seal the victory for the Hawks. It was one of the best tackles in the game’s history although it rarely, if ever, gets aired as an example of how it’s done. The same night, a year later, he took two brave marks going back in traffic to help beat Geelong and in doing so, end the Kennett curse.
There is also great presence and leadership inherent in his style. This is most keenly felt when Stratton is missing from the team through the breakdown of structures and associated game plans. This was never more evident than during the struggles of the team during 2017 when Stratton was missing for large chunks of the season due to a knee injury.
The renaissance of the team in 2018 has been largely driven by his underrated completeness coming to the fore. Any lingering doubts over the team missing the leadership and profound presence of the ‘General’, Luke Hodge have been put to rest. Stratton has stepped up to pick up the slack in marshalling a predominantly inexperienced defence. The Demons game spoke volumes. He was pivotal in keeping the composure of all the defenders around him after Melbourne got off to a fast start. A point made more meritorious with the loss of one of the team’s few experienced backs, James Frawley before quarter time. After Frawley’s withdrawal from the game, Stratton operated more in a zone off role which saw the strangulation of Melbourne’s scoring thereafter. He also facilitated probably the best transition from defence and rebound the team has seen in a good long while.
When considered together, all of these acts are far more deserving of ‘cult status’ than any Chapel Street retro ‘do’.