Mil Hanna coaches the under 15s at Hampton Rovers and also happens to have played 190 games for Carlton in the 80s and 90s. Read how a kid born in Lebanon and who grew up in East Brunswick ended up in Hampton…
I was born in Lebanon in 1966 and came to Australia when I was 5 with my younger sister and mum. My dad was already in Australia and had been for about 4 years. We wanted to escape the civil war but couldn’t all come at once, so dad came by himself until eventually he could afford a house, then we came over. For some reason my older brother and sister chose to remain in Lebanon for another five years and lived with my grandfather, so it was a bit of a disjointed move.
We settled in East Brunswick. My dad’s no longer around but my mum still lives in the family home by herself. We lived in a dead end street and there were probably four Lebanese families in the little street we were in. There were lots of Lebanese in Brunswick, not just from Lebanon but actually from the same village where mum and dad came from. So it felt a bit like home. It was comforting for my mum. My mum was inclusive; there were Italian and Greek neighbours and they were best friends but she had her Lebanese friends who would walk over and pop in.
There was an Italian family with two boys who lived across the road and one of the boys was the same age as me and we just hit it off. We liked the same things, went to the same school, we liked footy, cricket, we barracked for the same team and we’re still good friends now. The school I went to in East Brunswick had a high proportion of Greeks, Italians and Lebanese and that made it a bit easier.
It was interesting, even though there was a lot of ethnics in the school there wasn’t really any soccer played there; the main sports were football and cricket and I just took a liking for both of those sports early on. We lived 100 metres from the local footy ground where I played my junior football. It was convenient because both of my parents never drove a car so I just used to walk around there.
I went to the local high school, East Brunswick High. It was a pretty average school. There were 500 students; 90% of the students were either Lebanese, Greek, Turkish, Italian. There were very few Australians in the school. It doesn’t exist anymore. I didn’t really take school seriously; I didn’t like school at all. I started year 12 but dropped out at the start of the year. My mate who lived across from me had moved to Strathmore High three years prior because it was a good high school. It’s probably the equivalent of, say, McKinnon Secondary but on the other side of town. He said “why don’t you come here?” and somehow I was able to get in so I did one year there and did quite well in HSC after doing horrifically the year before. It was just having the discipline, study times, all that kind of stuff. I look back at my schooling life and I think I would have really enjoyed going to a school like Brighton Grammar as a kid who loved footy and who needed the discipline and the structure, who needed teachers to say “no, you’ve got to…” because teachers at East Brunswick had no control over the students, no control at all, we just ran our own race.
I barracked for Carlton as a kid so I was lucky I barracked for the team I played for. Back then, pre-draft, each AFL club had their own zone and East Brunswick was in the Carlton recruiting zone. My first interest in football probably came in about grade 5. I played for the primary school team and then I started playing for the East Brunswick Football Club from under 10s. I went through the next few years dreaming about playing for Carlton never really thinking I would ever play for them but you have those times where you wake up in the middle of the night in a lather of sweat thinking “oh god I’ve just had a dream about playing for Carlton”.
I never really watched Carlton play much before the age of 14 or 15. I didn’t go to games; I just listened to it on the radio. Back then I loved it. I’d spend holidays with my mate across the road, we’d go to the local ground and we’d play kick to kick. Even as a junior footballer at my local footy club, I was a good footballer but I wouldn’t say, in the early years, that I was an absolute standout. I was a good footballer but probably only in the top 5. I was skinny and small. When I hit 16 I shot up a bit.
There was about 7 of us from East Brunswick who were asked to go and train at Carlton under 19s. I started training as a 15 year old with my other 6 mates, two of who were way superior players than I was. They used to have the names of the under 19 teams listed in the Herald-Sun back then so it was a thrill to see your name in the paper. To be honest with you I said to myself “I just want to play one game in the under 19s” and back then that would have satisfied me. I had no visions beyond that.
I was there for 3 years and then I got promoted into the senior squad and played my first senior game in 1986. I injured my knee in the first game of my career and thought “here I go I’ve just started my career and it’s already ended”. I missed 14 months and missed out playing in the 1986 and 1987 grand finals (Carlton lost in ’86 and won in ’87). So in my first two years at Carlton we played in two grand finals and I was out injured. At the time, and I’ve told this story many times, I wasn’t really concerned, I was only 22 and I thought “oh geez, we’ve got such a good team, I’ll play in the next 5 premierships” but of course it just doesn’t work that way. I played in the 1993 grand final which we lost. In 1994 we got bundled out in the finals – we should have won – and then in 1995 we won the premiership.
Like most players, you get to a stage where you think you’re invincible and think you can still go on. At the end of the 1997 season we needed to win the last game of the year against Richmond to make the finals. We were up by 7 goals at half time and we ended up losing the game so I think that was the final straw. There were a number of us who were at the end of our careers and the coach said “you’ve had a few injuries in the last year” and he was more or less saying if you want to go on, that’s fine but your opportunities are going to be limited. And I just said no, I didn’t want to end my career in the reserves.
I loved playing. You look back now and you think what a time of your life, it was unbelievable. Doing something you love, getting paid for it, spending time with your mates, going overseas on trips and it’s the old saying you’re getting paid good money for something you loved doing. If I wasn’t good enough to make AFL I probably would have still played suburban football.
In 1993, one of the guys I played footy with was working for National Mutual and he said to me “are you interested in working a job?” I said “maybe”. There was a payroll company who used National Mutual for a lot of their insurances and he said they were looking for a salesman. So I rocked up to this interview on Glenferrie Road in Hawthorn, walked up the stairs and the first person I saw when I walked up was Megan. I thought “oh she’s a good sort”. She worked for the company and then I worked there and I asked her out one day. We got married in February of 1998. We have two kids, Max is 15 and Mia has just turned 14.
I bought a restaurant/café, The Fitz, in Brunswick Street, Fitzroy with my brother while I was playing football. My family had been in hospitality and I’d had a couple of jobs, sales jobs and stuff like that but I always liked hospitality. We come from a family that loves our food; my dad had a pizza shop and I used to work part time for him when I was a kid. Although The Fitz was open basically every day morning to night, it still provided the flexibility and freedom that I wanted at the time and still do. I could never see myself working in an office. I finished school and went to university and did a couple of years of science and a couple of years of phys ed but I didn’t want to be a teacher. Megan and I now own it; it’s open every single day from 7am til late. We’ve got a bar upstairs which is open til 1am. Brunswick Street, Fitzroy is an iconic area, it’s really bohemian. I love working there and I love living here so I’ve got the best of both worlds. It’s good to have the hustle and bustle of working there and then at the end of it you just come here and it’s quiet.
I’ve dabbled in many other things. Some have done well, some have done badly. I wouldn’t say I’m a passive investor, I liked to take risks back then. When I was playing football, I decided with a couple of my footy mates to buy the Lava Lounge and turn it into Melbourne’s best live band venue called the Hi Fi Bar. We had that from 1996 to about 2003. It was a great live band venue, we saw a gap in the market for a really good venue of that size, roughly 1000 people. Not that we knew anything about it but we bought it. We had some amazing gigs there. Promoters would put gigs in our venue and one time my business partner Brad Pearce said “why don’t we start touring our own acts? I’ve got one act I really want to bring to Australia”. Megan and I said “who is it?” He said “you haven’t heard of them but I’m telling you, they’re going to be massive”. I said “who are they?” He said “look it’s a band called the Black Eyed Peas”. I said “really, I’ve never heard of them”. He said “yeah yeah, I’m telling you, they’re going to be massive”. So we paid for their flights, we brought them over. We lost money on the gig, only 200-300 people turned up but he was on the money!
I bought a house in Moonee Ponds with my brother years ago. Most of us at Carlton lived in Moonee Ponds and the surrounding suburbs and I loved my time there. I eventually sold the house to my brother. Megan and I hooked up and we rented for the next few years. We lived in Elwood for about six years and loved our time in Elwood pre-children. Lived across the road from the beach, walked up to Acland Street, we just had the time of our lives. And then we had Max and we realised it was not quite the area to live while you’ve got young children. Pre children you don’t notice the noise; you go out at night, you get home at night, you’re drunk and all of a sudden you have children and you hear all the swearing and breaking bottles. Megan’s parents lived in East Malvern so we thought we’d go closer to them. Then seven years ago we came back looking around Hampton. We’d been to a couple of auctions and they just went for way more than they advertised and after going to an auction and missing out we were driving home and we saw an open for inspection for this house and thought this is exactly what we want and made an offer. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done. We love living here because of the beach, park, shops and schools.
I’d done my 3 years of coaching under 10s and 11s at an age where there was no grading and I loved it. Loved that early age coaching Max when things were fun. It wasn’t serious and we had good times. And then I thought I’ve done my time, I’ve enjoyed it but if I’m going to do anymore in football, I’d rather do it with kids who are really keen to move on. For me I’d done the fun thing and that no longer motivated me. In terms of me moving forward if I suddenly got an opportunity to maybe coach at Sandy Dragons I might consider it, I’m not sure. I wasn’t going to coach this year but then Tim Marshall from Brighton Grammar suggested merging East Sandy and Rovers because we were in a situation where I think we were going to lose our top 4 or 5 players from both teams. I thought if it means keeping all the kids together I’m happy to do it. As it is, East Sandy is like a hybrid club of Hampton, it’s next door, there’s been successful mergers over the last 4 or 5 years and you wouldn’t think it was two clubs this year and it’s worked well.
There are kids that are absolute stand outs and are outstanding from the age of 13/14, the Chris Judd types, but beyond that I really don’t think you can say with any certainty as a 13, 14, 15, 16 or 17 year old kid whether the kid’s going to make it in the AFL. At a match I was watching last year I asked Michael Turner, who’s been looking after the Geelong Falcons for 20 years now, when can you tell if a kid might make it and he said “contrary to what most people think, you can’t tell before 17”. I’ve seen a lot of kids at 15 who are absolute superstars that haven’t gone on because once you hit 17, you’re dealing with adult bodies and that’s when you can see whether kids can cope.
One of my best mates who played nearly 200 games at Carlton, Ang Christou, didn’t start playing football until he was 17. He was asked to play in the under 19s and made it from there. It’s really to do with the drive of the kid, how much they want it. Some kids get overdosed on it early and sometimes by the time they’re 16, they’re washed up. Other kids just thrive on it for their whole career.
Family has been a big thing to me. My wife’s been a big influence on my life. She’s a great business woman, strong. Coming from a Lebanese background I was quite chauvinistic and she has shaped my life which has been great. Moving to Hampton has been the best thing that’s happened to us. There’s something about living near the water that does something to you. Waking up on weekends and walking the dog down the dog beach. We’ve lived in East Malvern and places like that; beautiful leafy areas but they’re no comparison to the beach.
It may be out of ‘the Bubble’ but if you find yourself on the other side of town, go eat at The Fitz.
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