First night prison memories still give footy star the chills
The enormity of Andrew Krakouer's plight - and the realisation of how much he had let his family down - struck him like a thunderbolt as the jingling of keys and the clanging of the cell door locked him in for his first night in prison.
It was mid-2008, and Krakouer's immediate future looked bleak.
The one-time Richmond footballer, who had been delisted after the charges and court case derailed his AFL career, had been sentenced to four years' prison for assault with intent to cause bodily harm, with a minimum non-parole period of 16 months.
Krakouer's father, Jim - a champion footballer of the 1980s and early '90s - had been to jail more than a decade earlier, leaving a young family heartbroken.
Now, a reckless act when drawn into a complicated feud meant Andrew had left his childhood sweetheart Barbara and his daughters in a similar situation.
"There were so many emotions going through my mind … it was anxiety, I was scared, I was in fear of what was going to happen," Krakouer told the Herald Sun's Sacked podcast.
"It was a scary feeling … understanding the enormity of it … that your life is probably over from now on.
"We (got) processed and went down to our cell and even then it was a really dark hallway.
"You get to the (cell) door. They (the guards) stop. There is a jingle of the keys. They open your door and (there is) a massive clunk, and that's it.
"That's going to be home for the next 16 months.
"I remember laying down in bed and touching the roof and feeling the etchings in the wall … the reality was this was going to be home and there was the reality of how many people I had let down."
Playing AFL football at that stage wasn't a consideration.
As far back as that first night in prison, all he cared about was Barbara and his kids, resolving to make it up to them.
"I was done and dusted with it (footy) …
"I didn't think there was ever a way to come back from this. No one had ever done it before.
"All I wanted to be was a Dad. That was my ambition, that was my driving force, to be there for my girls and support them."
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GROWING UP A KRAKOUER
Krakouer never felt the pressure of carrying one of the most famous surnames in football.
But what was inescapable was the extraordinary legacy his father Jim and uncle Phil created in the AFL and the WAFL, inspiring a wave of future footballers.
"I didn't feel too much pressure because I didn't probably understand what Uncle Phil and Dad were able to do," he said.
"I knew it was a famous name, but I hardly saw any highlights and obviously didn't see them playing at North Melbourne.
"I was probably down at the creche then.
"When I first got drafted … (Wayne Campbell) gave me a DVD of Dad and Uncle Phil. That was one of the first times I saw footage … and I understood where the hype actually came from."
Krakouer was drafted by Richmond from South Fremantle with pick 41 in the 2000 national draft.
"My partner and I had our first daughter (when) I was 16," he said.
"I was still a kid having a kid, which was pretty tough. I liked playing footy, but it wasn't something I thought was going to be a career for myself.
"Two or three days out from the draft, Gerard (Neesham, from Clontarf Academy) said 'Richmond looks like taking you' and it was a bit of a shock to me."
LIFE AT PUNT RD
Krakouer played 102 games and kicked 102 goals for the Tigers from 2001 to 2007, and while he took some time to prepare his body for the rigours of AFL football, he made a sizeable impression when he did.
He will forever be grateful to Richmond, and the late Danny Frawley, for giving him his chance.
"I have got the utmost respect and love for Danny for obviously taking a massive punt on a kid who had just had a young child as well," he said.
"He (Frawley) was an emotional man. He wore his heart on his sleeve, and the boys at Richmond loved that.
"Unfortunately, we didn't have a lot of success, but looking back, we had some great players - Matty Knights, Matty Richardson, Wayne Campbell, Nathan Brown, Matty Rogers, Nick Daffy and Darren Gaspar."
He loved teaming with Richardson in attack, but knew when to get out of his way.
"I tried not to get in his way too much," he laughed.
"If you did it once, you certainly knew not to do it again.
"That was your role. You understood that.
"I loved it. One thing which comes to mind was when Richo kicked 10 (against Western Bulldogs in 2004).
"That was probably the loudest I've heard the Tiger Army roar."
CHRISTMAS EVE, 2006
A split second scuffle from a long-time family feud turned Krakouer's life on its axis.
The fight in Fremantle resulted in him being charged with assault, which ultimately led to the end of his time with the Tigers.
"I was involved in an incident where someone was hurt pretty bad and the consequences for that was me serving 16 months in prison," he said.
"You can't change what happened. I have learnt from it and have done whatever I could to make sure something like that never happens again."
He never shied away from culpability, despite the complications involved.
"Every situation is unique and has its own dynamics, and sometimes other people might not understand, but at the end of the day I made a mistake.
"I made the wrong decision. There is no other blame on anyone else … it was my choice."
The charges wrecked Krakouer's focus in his last year with the Tigers in 2007.
"Not only had I hurt the victim and his family and friends, but the ripple effect was that my career was basically ruined at that time," he said.
"My daughters didn't have a father; I wasn't around for my partner."
By the time he went to prison in mid-2008, Krakouer's AFL career was over.
"My partner and my girls came out (to the prison) every weekend," he recalled.
"They were an amazing support."
"That's how I tried to break it down. Every week I was able to see my girls."
He shared a cell with his brother, Tyrone, who was in prison over the same incident.
"He was the top bunk; I was the bottom bunk," he said.
"It was a tough time, but having your brother in there to support one another, we did as well as we could."
Footy wasn't a consideration then … then he started playing for the Wooroloo Prison team.
'I'M SO SORRY'
On the day he was released from prison Krakouer played in a footy carnival in Bunbury, took a hanger, and guaranteed his daughters he would spend the rest of his life making up for his absence.
A decade on, he has kept that bargain.
He and Barbara now have four daughters.
"Kids just love you and will forgive you … I have said to them, 'I am so sorry, I have let you down'.
They have said 'Don't worry Dad, we love you, too'.
"It's just unconditional love, to have my girls in my arms again, that was just a beautiful thing."
Krakouer's love for footy returned, too. He had played a few games for Swan Districts in the WAFL before going to prison and they wanted him back on his release.
His 2010 season proved one of the greatest in modern WAFL history and had AFL recruiting scouts hovering.
Krakouer won the Sandover Medal and his club's best and fairest. Then he produced the game of his life in the WAFL Grand Final, having 42 disposals, 290 SuperCoach points, and kicking four goals, including the winning major.
That last goal came just before the final siren.
"It kind of bounced at the right 90 degree angle and basically bounced in my lap," he said.
"I didn't have too much time to think about it, I just kicked it high and hoped and was lucky it went through."
BECOMING A MAGPIE
Krakouer had spoken with Collingwood recruiting manager Derek Hine during the 2010 season.
But a phone call from coach Mick Malthouse and a pledge to play alongside Leon Davis sealed the deal.
The Magpies had just won the 2010 flag, but Malthouse insisted there was a spot for him.
"(Mick) gave me a call and said 'Congratulations, I want to let you know that you are coming over to play footy, you are not coming here to make up the numbers'.
"I was very grateful to get another opportunity. After what I had been through, for a footy club to look beyond that, (and see) I was trying to be a better person in life, not only on the football field, (was incredible)."
"I wanted to be a better father and a better man, more than a better footballer when I got out of jail.
"The early days at Richmond took me awhile to understand (what was required to play AFL football) … I was ready to make an impact, when I got to Collingwood."
MARK OF THE YEAR
Krakouer swiftly became a fan favourite … and what happened in Round 9, 2011 only endeared him more to the Magpie army.
He dragged down mark of the year.
"I remember 'Daisy' (Thomas) coming out of the middle and sort of whacking it on his left peg," he said.
"There were a few guys, (Dayne) Beams and others, and I saw them out of the corner of my eye."
"I had a bit of a jump at it, then I was lucky enough to get a bit of a ride … to take the mark."
What happened next still frustrates him.
"I still kick myself … I missed the goal," he said with a smile.
"But the Hungry Jacks $10,000 Eftpos card (for mark of the year), the kids and my partner enjoyed very much."
THE GRAND FINAL
The Krakouer fairytale, as good as it already was, was only one step away from being complete.
The Magpies won their way through to the 2011 Grand Final against Geelong.
"The build-up was pretty crazy, even at training, even at the parade," he said.
"I was thinking the year before I won a WAFL Grand Final and 12 months prior to that, I was in prison."
Krakouer kicked three opening half goals.
"I was able to get it in the right position and kick a few," he said.
But after the Pies trailed narrowly at three-quarter-time, the Cats finished over the top to win by 37 points.
"I felt we were still in the game, we were the best fourth quarter team in the comp," he said.
"Unfortunately, it didn't eventuate. They were an amazing team, that was the one that got away from us."
It was Malthouse's final game.
"I remember having a chat with him afterwards, and gave him a hug and a handshake and thanked him for the opportunity on behalf of myself and my family," he sai
Krakouer switched from No. 7 to No. 3 in 2012, in honour of the number his father wore at North Melbourne.
But it was short lived. In a practice match against Geelong, his knee buckled under him. His season was over.
"Doing my knee was a very hard pill to swallow, not being too injured throughout my career."
He immediately changed back to No.7.
"Number three wasn't available when I first came over (to Collingwood), so I took number 7. When number 3 became available, I went to get it then I did my knee.
"I didn't wear it again, the boots got chucked away too. I said 'Can I go back to No.7."
Krakouer managed only eight games in his final season - 2013 - with his last coming in Round 17. At season's end, he was sacked, but he knew it was coming. There were no recriminations.
A post-season meeting with coach Nathan Buckley and footy manager Rodney Eade confirmed the decision.
"I thought the writing was on the wall anyway, so it wasn't a real surprise to me. They just said it, and I said 'No worries gents'.
"I would have liked to have played on, but that wasn't the case. I was a bit mentally drained.
"I am really proud of what I was able to achieve.
"I was only (at Collingwood) for three years, but I felt like I was there for 10. They (the fans) welcomed me with open arms."
Krakouer's AFL career totalled 137 games and 152 goals at two AFL clubs, but the rest of his life awaited.
Krakouer, now 37, has honoured his post-prison promise to spend the rest of his life making it up to his partner and four daughters.
He is also using his voice to help others.
"When I played footy, I didn't like doing interviews or talking," he said.
"I was a shy kid, but now I am starting to speak publicly and tell my story.
"I do it to try and help people."
He works for Multiplex in the construction industry, but is a powerful Indigenous voice in the community, who also does special comments for the National Indigenous Radio Service.
"I am fortunate enough to have a voice and a platform … I think it is important that when you do have a voice, you can relay that message."
His message is a salient one - about never giving up on a dream, finding redemption, and the power of family.
Originally published as First night prison memories that still give Andrew Krakouer chills