In 1997 a group of Canberra Raiders players, led by Ruben Wiki, David Furner and Brett Finch, rallied to help one of their own.
It wasn’t a fellow player, but the beloved team mascot, Tony Wood, better known as Victor the Viking.
Tony had suffered stroke-like symptoms, known as Conversion Disorder, and was admitted to hospital.
While he was in hospital, the players relayed the turf and landscaped his backyard.
Tony remembers the time fondly. “When I came home from hospital, I was blown away. It reinforced to me that this was a club that cared for people. It spurred me on to do more in the community.”
That ethos, reinforced on the day when he returned from hospital to discover the backyard makeover, has continued to this day, demonstrated through Tony’s work with Respite Care for Queanbeyan, Rise Above and as Victor the Viking.
Tony, who works for Baptist Aged Care was again “blown away” on Australia Day when he was awarded an OAM for services to the community.
“It has inspired me to do more and hopefully it inspires others to give back to the community.”
Tony has already given plenty, especially to Raiders fans.
Thirty-eight years entertaining the Raiders faithful at both Seiffert Oval and Canberra Stadium is testament to his love for his team. He started in 1983 as an 18-year-old after taking a supporters bus to Sydney, and witnessing first hand the smiles generated by the West’s magpie mascot.
Says Tony, “He made me smile so I decided I wanted to do the same at the Raiders, and I have done it ever since.”
The mascot role is almost an out-of-body experience, taking on the dual role of entertainer and motivator. His wife, Sally, and three daughters are all passionate supporters and don’t mind offering a critique of his performance.
“My wife will some time say, ‘you’re an idiot’,” says Tony.
Over the past 38 years, Tony has been through a series of Viking suits.
“I’ve kept six of them. That’s every one of them, except the first, which was made of paper mache and the head kept falling off.”
There was also the time in 1997 when the NRL decided Victor the Viking should be targeted towards a younger demographic. So instead of his normal mascot suit, Tony came out as Victor Junior, which looked like a giant Transformer-style creature.
Tony says it was so big he couldn’t fit it in his car. Once inside the suit, he couldn’t see anything. Fans yelled abuse saying they couldn’t see the game because it blocked the view and demanded the old mascot return.
Needless to say, Victor Junior lasted one game. To be abused by Raiders fans was the tipping point.
Abuse if the reason Victor is only a feature in Canberra now.
“I only do home games these days because there is too much abuse at away games.”
There was a time in 1988 when police escorted him off the field at Lang Park after performing a pelvic thrust. “They said I had performed an indecent gesture!”
The following year should have been a golden moment for the Raiders mascot, but Tony withdrew his services for six months in protest over the move from Seiffert to Bruce Stadium.
“I didn’t agree with the move but I missed it. So I swallowed my pride and I was welcomed back by the Raiders.” By the time he returned, the Raiders had already won the grand final, the first premiership in the club’s history.
It’s not an easy job being a mascot, especially after a quadruple bypass five years ago, but at 55 years of age, he shows no signs of slowing down.
“Over the years there have been plenty of individuals who are mascots with Sydney teams that are members of Actors Equity, but they can only go 20 minutes before having a break. You need to drink a lot of water.”
For Tony, he will keep going for as long as he can.
“I can’t see myself stopping. I might slow down though.” It’s hard to imagine a home game without him.
He’s already a Raiders Life Member, receiving the honour in 2017. He was presented with a special ring to mark the occasion which, given his penchant for losing rings, he keeps in a secure place. Now he can add OAM to his growing list of accolades.