Modern Era

Bailey Banfield

Bailey Banfield was raised in Broome before moving to Perth to play for Claremont. He was drafted by Fremantle in 2017, making his AFL debut in 2018.

For as long as anyone in the family can remember, Bailey Banfield wanted to be a footy player. His father Robert was a successful West Kimberley footballer for the Broome Bulls and became his first junior coach.

As a child, he would spend hours kicking a soft footy with his Chinese grandmother, Shirley, and his mother Debbie would kick with him on the family’s driveway.

‘When Bailey was five, someone gave him a life-sized red Sherrin football easter egg, which had all the teams on the back. After that, he learnt about every team and the ladder. In any round, I could ask him, “What’s the ladder this week, baby?” and he could tell me,’ Debbie recalled.

‘When he was five years old, he told us he wanted to be an AFL football player.’

Bailey’s great-grandfather, Clem Fong, migrated from Canton to Broome in the early 1930s, where he married a local woman, Daisy, herself a child of Chinese parents.

Bailey’s grandmother Shirley was born in Broome in 1937, but his mother Debbie grew up in Perth, where the family entered the Chinese restaurant trade and she worked there whilst studying to be a teacher and eventually moving to Broome.

Bailey is proud of his Chinese heritage: ‘I remember listening to stories from my grandpa and grandma and being amazed at their journey.’

The Banfield family moved to Perth for Bailey’s high school and he made the Western Australian schoolboy teams for the national carnival whilst playing for Claremont Colts in the WAFL.

When the 2016 AFL Draft took place, Bailey was confident of being picked and was disappointed when he was not drafted. 

‘Back then the draft was the only pathway to the AFL, so it was all or nothing.’ He recalls.

Bailey had a strong year in 2017 and the teenager won the E.B Cook Medal for Claremont’s Best and Fairest senior player. Despite the accolades he almost missed out on being drafted a second time.

‘I missed out on the first AFL Draft then the Rookie Draft, missed out on the second AFL Draft and then got picked up in the Rookie Draft by Fremantle,’ Bailey explains.

‘There were 209 players picked ahead of me in those four drafts. ‘I just squeaked in, so I had all the fuel I needed.’

At the Fremantle Dockers, Bailey ‘trained the house down’ in the 2018 pre-season and was selected to make his AFL debut for Round 1.

By the end of the 2022 season, he had kicked 31 goals for Fremantle across 61 games.

Lin Jong

Lin Jong had a 10-year career with the Western Bulldogs, earning life membership of the club and a fan favourite, earning respect for his on-field courage.

On Sunday, August 12 in 2012, Lin Jong made his debut at the MCG for the Western Bulldogs, an amazing feat to be playing top-flight AFL football only four years after taking up the game.

His selection caught his Chinese heritage parents Vitor and Fay by surprise. They were on holiday in New Zealand, having made the trip assuming he was playing in the lower-tier VFL.

"We were in the hotel room getting ready to watch the game on Foxtel," Vitor recalls. "And then we hear the commentators announce our son's debut."

Lin Jong grew up in Clayton in south-east Melbourne and preferred basketball until the age of 15 before taking up footy and rocketing through the pathways, leading to him being picked at No.9 in the 2012 AFL Rookie Draft by the Western Bulldogs.

His father Vitor was a sports fanatic but his mother Faye wanted him to focus on studying, although she would later convert to become his biggest fan.

"I cried and said 'Why?'"' Faye recalls the moment Lin told him of his football dream. "The game is so tough and it's so easy to get injured. I thought he should study and become a doctor, not a sportsman."

After a strong end to the 2012 season, Lin broke his leg before he could play a single game in the 2013 AFL season. He returned to play six matches in 2014 and helped the Bulldogs win the VFL premiership.

In 2015, he made 13 appearances for the Bulldogs before his breakout season in 2016 where he established himself as an elite footballer, playing 16 senior games, kicking 13 goals and racking up 268 disposals before breaking his collarbone in an elimination final against West Coast Eagles in Perth.

Lin made an astonishing recovery to lead the Bulldogs to a famous VFL Grand Final victory, picking up 29 disposals and winning the Norm Goss Medal for best on ground, a hard-earned reward after playing with a cracked collarbone.

Despite his VFL heroics, the Bulldogs chose not to pick Lin for the AFL Grand Final a week later, instead selecting Fletcher Roberts, his close friend and housemate. 

The Bulldogs won the 2016 premiership against the Sydney Swans to clinch the club's first premiership in 62 years.

"It was tougher to swallow because 2016 was my best year at the club," Lin says.

A series of injuries in 2017 and 2018 led to him taking a break from football, and he was diagnosed with depression.

Lin returned to play four more games during the COVID-19-affected seasons of 2020 and 2021, before retiring at the age of 28 after a final hamstring injury. He was awarded life membership of the Western Bulldogs for 10 years at the club.  

After Lin's announcement, former Western Bulldogs captain Bob Murphy was asked on SEN radio whether he thought Lin would have been a 150-plus game player if not for the injury setbacks.

"Yeah, I think so," Murphy responded. "He was tough. Proper tough."

Connor Downie

Connor Downie was born in East Melbourne in 2002 and his mother Li Xia (Tracy) Lin was an English teacher who migrated to Australia from Xiamen in China, eventually becoming a high school teacher.

For a father with more interest in reading books than sport, Graham Downie had a pivotal role in his son Connor’s football development, including his first kick of the Sherrin football.

‘We were in Federation Square close to grand final time and there was an AFL stall selling small footballs,’ Graham remembers.

‘So we bought him one and went to the Botanical Gardens where we played kick-to-kick.’

Connor’s mini footy went with him to kindergarten and his new friends: ‘all loved their footy and Collingwood’, so he started following the Magpies and joined his local Auskick program at the Forest Hill Zebras.

Connor graduated into Forest Hill Zebras junior teams and developed a strong left foot kick. He was awarded the best player in an U15’s inter league carnival for the Eastern Football League and invited to join The Hawthorn Next Generation Academy.

His representative highlights include making both the Under 16 and 18 Vic Metro team and playing for the Australian Under 17’s team against the New Zealand men’s national team.

He continued to play strongly for the Eastern Ranges representative team and after a season’s break for Covid19, he was selected by Hawthorn at pick 35 in the 2020 AFL draft.

Connor Downie was born in East Melbourne in 2002 and his mother Li Xia (Tracy) Lin was an English teacher who migrated to Australia from Xiamen in China, eventually becoming a high school teacher. His father Graham was also a school teacher.

Connor was given consistent exposure to his Chinese heritage and has visited his mother’s hometown in China twice, first at age four and then when he was 13 where he spent time with his Chinese grandfather Minzeng Lin.

In Melbourne, Tracy ensured that Connor maintained his Chinese connection by speaking to him in Mandarin when he was young and later enrolling him at a local Chinese language school: ‘I’m really grateful because I can speak decent Chinese and hold a conversation and that’s a skill I’m proud of.’ Connor said.

For the opening round of the 2021 season, Connor Downie had one of the more unique AFL debuts in the game’s history.

He was named as a medical substitute for Hawthorn’s match against Essendon at Marvel Stadium, which means it was his official debut, but he never actually ran onto the field.

In Round 22 of the 2021 season, he finally made his on-field debut, helping Hawthorn defeat the Western Bulldogs in Launceston.

Connor Downie had achieved his dream of playing an AFL game and finished with a credible 12 disposals and two marks.

He says of his first game: ‘I felt pretty comfortable and confident at a level that nothing really took me by surprise,’

‘I guess I just embraced the occasion and really enjoyed it.’

His 2022 season was marred by injuries and he was delisted by the Hawks at the end of the season.

Daniel Seow

When Collingwood’s Dannie Seow made his debut in 1986, he became the first VFL player of Chinese heritage for 44 years.

On Saturday, May 10 1986, 19-year-old Dannie Seow made his senior debut for Collingwood under legendary VFL player Leigh Matthews who, as an assistant coach, came in to replace Bob Rose after a disastrous start to the season.

Dannie was the first footballer of Chinese heritage to play for a VFL club since Ian Chinn played for South Melbourne in 1942, and the first since the end of the White Australia policy in 1973.

Dannie was born in Melbourne in 1967, the son of a Chinese-Singaporean engineer father, Boon Seng Seow, and was raised by his mother, Vion, after the family separated from their troubled father when Dannie was six.

His maternal grandmother, Agnes, was a footy fanatic and she would ride an emotional wave with her young grandson every time they watched a Collingwood match together.

Every spare moment for Dannie was devoted to his passion. "I had a footy with me all the time, walking to school, recess, lunch," he says.

When asked by one of his primary school teachers what he wanted to do when he grew up, Dannie wrote 'professional footy player'.

Dannie played Little League for Essendon before the family moved to Montmorency in the Diamond Valley recruiting zone assigned to Collingwood.  At 17, he signed to play with Collingwood under-19s and in 1986 played 14 games for Collingwood with a resurgent Magpies narrowly missing finals.

Dannie was concussed heavily in the 1987 pre-season and diagnosed with abnormal electrolysis of the brain. He stepped down from football and went to America to finish high school in Virginia. "I'd started footy at a high level so young and I felt unless I could play, I'd rather finish school somewhere interesting," Dannie says.

After graduation he was accepted into the University of North Carolina where he made their American football team but was forced to end his American journey early, returning to take care of his sick mother.

For the 1989 season, Dannie signed with Melbourne Football Club and in Round 1, Dannie was one of the best players in Melbourne's five-point victory against Fitzroy.

He kicked two goals and in the match report in The Age, journalist Martin Blake described his impressive return to top-flight football. 'Dannie Seow's stint of gridiron has done him no harm,' wrote Blake.

'He was the best of the debutants playing a solid game at centre half-back on Paul Roos. He was particularly effective in the first half and even scored two goals.'

Within weeks, Dannie pulled out of Melbourne due to health concerns caused by head and ankle injuries and retired from the game the following season after playing intermittently.

After his football career, he moved to China to learn martial arts and the Chinese language and worked as a model for three years.

On his return from China, Dannie reunited with his father, Boon and now lives in Colorado in North America.

Darcy Vescio

Carlton’s Darcy Vescio has twice been the leading goalkicker in the AFLW and was the first player to reach the 50-goal milestone.

"It was in that moment that I really realised that we'd been missing something that so many of us wanted – that change was finally happening," Darcy Vescio recalled of the first-ever AFLW  match in February 2017.

With their hair in a warrior topknot and in front of 25,000 screaming fans, Carlton's 22-year-old marquee player tormented their Collingwood opponents with a best-on-ground performance including four goals and some athletic marks that thrilled the crowd.

"After I kicked a couple of goals, I was just floating in the electric atmosphere, the crowd was going nuts," Darcy recalls.

In 1982, a schoolteacher named Christine Louey walked into a pub in Wangaratta in regional north-east Victoria and met a barman by the name of Paul Vescio.

According to Darcy, the pair hit it off immediately and became a couple. Both were born to migrant parents who came to Australia after World War II, with Christine's Cantonese family hailing from Toishan, in Guangzhou, and Paul's from Calabria in southern Italy.

Along with two siblings, Darcy grew up on the farm alongside their Italian grandparents and in school holidays they would visit their Chinese grandfather Cheong Lip Louey, who they called 'Goong'.

Darcy loved football from an early age and was a star player for the Whorouly Lions and Myrtleford Alpine Saints before state-wide regulations banned mixed-gender football after the age of 14.

"When I was forced to stop playing footy, I honestly didn't think I would play again," Darcy recalls. "It was over."

After finishing high school, Darcy moved to Melbourne to live with their Chinese grandfather 'Goong' and study at RMIT.

During their time living together, Darcy developed a taste for Chinese cuisine – particularly bitter melon, pork baos, salty plums and fish balls. "I always felt so lucky to live with my Goong and to have that day-to-day connection with him," Darcy says.

Darcy joined the Darebin Falcons, an independent female football club and thrived, winning four premierships and attracting the attention of AFLW clubs, with Carlton signing Darcy for the inaugural AFLW season.

In December 2021 Darcy announced their new gender identity as non-binary and using 'they' as their pronoun.

"Sharing this feels a bit daunting but brings me a lot of warmth and happiness. I am most comfortable with they/them pronouns and will always respond to Darcy unless in trouble," they wrote on social media.

At the time, the 28-year-old was the League's all-time leading goalkicker and a two-time All-Australian player. Having spent all six AFLW seasons at Carlton, one of Australia's most popular football clubs, Darcy was one of the few AFLW stars who might be considered a household name.

In 2022, Darcy became the first AFLW player to reach the 50-goal milestone.

"Before AFLW, when I went out to schools, I'd have to convince the kids I was a footballer," Darcy says. "Not any more!"

Trevor O'Hoy

In 1973 St Kilda’s Trevor O’Hoy came second in the Gardiner Medal in the VFL Reserves before becoming a board member at North Melbourne.

Trevor O'Hoy will never forget the long walk to the centre of Moorabbin Oval to tell St Kilda coach Allan Jeans that his career was over, having just heard from the club doctor that his two medial ligament tears could not be fixed.

The timing of the latest injury could not have come at a worse time for his football aspirations.

"I had just been promoted to the seniors list after three years of playing reserves and had just come runner up in the Gardiner Medal for the best player in reserve grade – and  then the new tear happened,' Trevor recalls.

 As an Asian footballer, Trevor was an unusual sight on VFL fields in the early 1970s. He would be constantly reminded of his Asian ancestry by fans and players who would have had little idea of the complexity of his identity.

"My father was conceived in Bendigo and born in Hong Kong so his side of the family is Hong Kong Chinese," Trevor says.

His mother's background was mixed Asian, a rarity back then.

"My mother Marie is half-Japanese, a quarter Chinese and a quarter Australian," he says.

"So, I was a majority Chinese, quarter-Japanese kid in the '60s and '70s, which was a tough time."

Trevor O'Hoy would often visit his extended family in Bendigo and is proud of his family history, especially his great grandfather Hoy Louey who migrated from Hong Kong. Upon arrival his name was changed to O'Hoy by immigration. Hoy Louey was a success in Bendigo, owning a famous general store, a herbalist, piggeries and market gardens. 

Trevor played three years in the St Kilda reserves at a time when the VFL reserve grade competition was highly respected. His position was on the wing and his teammates included future senior footballers of the likes of Mick Malthouse and Grant Thomas.

He played from 1972-1974 and had a golden year in 1973, coming second to Carlton's Vin Catoggio in the prestigious Gardiner Medal for the best and fairest in the VFL reserves.

On the night the Gardiner Medal was announced, Trevor wasn't even at the event and had not expected to figure in the voting.

He received a call from coach Eric Guy who broke the news.

"I think looking Chinese made me stand out in a strange way because I seemed to collect a lot of umpires votes," he says with a laugh.

After leaving St Kilda, Trevor joined Carlton and United Breweries and he would go on to become their CEO, under the new brand of Fosters.

He would later return to football, spending four and a half years on the board of the North Melbourne Football Club, becoming the first AFL board member of Asian descent. Additionally, he would also serve on the board of Cricket Australia and Cricket Victoria.

His success in the commercial world is all attributable to his football success according to Trevor: "All the dots connect back to footy."