For years he graced the terraces of virtually every inner-city footy ground in Melbourne and he remains, to those of us old enough to remember, a celebrated football icon.
His name was John Boyd - or to the tens of thousands of supporters to whom he hawked his precious wares - “the Peanut Man”.
Back in the 50s and 60s, if you couldn’t hear the Peanut Man's nasally sprain, “Peanuts, peanuts, shilling a bag” - which was unlikely - then you could easily see him. With his beer bottle glasses, leather money pouch and nut-filled briquette sack slung over his right shoulder, the Peanut Man somehow managed to manouvre his hefty frame through the vast hordes of supporters as he got to you with the goods.
And yet, as endearing as he was to so many, so little is known of the late John Boyd.
The following are the recollections of John’s nephew Darren Wharton, who has gone to great pains to debunk the myths that have in some instances besmirched the Peanut Man’s memory in the 20 years since his untimely passing.
Darren’s touching observations of a humble, hard-working character whose life experiences were inexorably shaped by the difficult years of The Great Depression are truly welcome . . . as is his revelation that John Boyd had but one football team for which he leant is loyal support until the very end.
This is Darren’s story, as told to Tony De Bolfo.
The corporate saturation of AFL football is so prevalent in today’s game. There is hardly a segment on a football program or a radio broadcast that is not “sponsored by” or “brought to you by”.
There’s the Carlton Draught statistics, the Bailey Ladders ladder, the IGA scoreboard and just try and watch a broadcast without the prominent white choppers of “Jaimee Rogers here”.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against it as the revenue helps pay our great players, keeps our clubs operating and keep attendance costs affordable. But what about catering costs? The caterers at AFL venues are charging prices that would make Gina Reinhart blush. The kids always like a pie or a hot dog and a drink at the footy and there's about 25 bucks done and dusted for two kids.
So how about a light snack or something to occupy the hands during those nail biting moments in a game. What about just something quick to nibble on. If only we could hear the once familiar (to those over 30 years of age anyway) cry of “Perna .. pernuts …. perna … pernuts … 20 cents a bag … perna pernuts”.
Translated that means peanuts, peanuts 20 cents a bag.
Ah yes, the Peanut Man. An indelible icon of yesteryear, we all remember the Peanut Man. Amazingly supporters of many clubs assimilate the Peanut Man with their home venue. "The Peanut Man, yeah, he was always at Vic Park" or "I remember the Peanut Man he was always at the Western Oval". Many questions remain unanswered about the Peanut Man. Simple questions too such as who was he? Where did he come from? Where did he go? Is he still alive? What team did he actually support? Did he drive a gold Rolls Royce and live in a mansion in Toorak?
The answers to these questions are now provided so as to put asunder any false myths about this venerable VFL vending icon.
The Peanut Man was born John Leslie Boyd on August 10, 1930 to Winfred and William (Bill) Boyd in Collingwood. One of seven surviving siblings, John was the third youngest and for his entire life remained devoted to his family.
Never marrying or having children of his own, he was thoroughly committed to providing a home for his mother who removed herself from an unsustainable marriage to a likeable but unreliable rogue who in the midst of the Great Depression remained more committed to drink, snooker/billiards and cards than he did to providing an income for his family.
Bill thought nothing of cleaning up at the pool halls, then spending the lot on grog whilst his wife walked all the way to St Kilda beach from Hoddle Street Collingwood to collect mussels off the pier, come home and rip palings off the fence in order to boil up a meagre broth to feed her family.
These times were tough but defined who John (Johnny as he was affectionately known) was and who he later became.
When forced, Bill Boyd would buy peanuts from the local wholesalers, bag them and haul them around in a large hessian sack to sell at the local footy games. He drafted his two older sons Bill and John into the scheme later, leaving it to them in order to pursue his more nefarious dealings either in the pool halls, card games or the local boozer. Later, he coerced his youngest son Len into joining them . . . and so at around the time of the war years the peanut dynasty was born.
The three boys - Bill (jnr), John and Len - would march off to the VFL game of a Saturday and any peanuts which remained unsold were duly hawked the following day at the VFA under strict instructions from the old man. This continued for a few years, but eventually war and adolescence intervened as Bill and Len subsequently met and courted the women who would eventually become their wives.
John however remained and absolutely loved selling his peanuts and (in later years) experiencing the minor notoriety that came with it.
From the age of 12, Johnny sold newspapers on street corners in Melbourne’s CBD, something he encouraged his many nephews in later years to do. After working his way off the corners and into the newspaper place itself, he remained in the employ of the Little Bourke Street newsagency until 1991. This allowed him plenty of room after closing hours on Wednesday and Thursday to bag and sack his peanuts in preparation for the upcoming weekend's round of matches where the fixture was scrutinised to determine the best game at which to sell his peanuts.
Victoria Park remained a favourite venue for many years as it had the familiarity of being his old stomping ground from childhood days, as well as harbouring a ferociously ardent hoard of rabid Collingwood supporters along with the brave few opposition fans willing to run the risk of harassment, verbal assault and the saliva showers (on a good day) that supporters of oppositions clubs so richly deserved for daring to enter the domain of the magpie. Johnny was a local. A Collingwood die hard. He was always at Victoria Park so the fans thought. “Pernuts ... Pernuts" - that was a Vic Park catch cry. Sure Vic Park was a hot bed of peanut sale activity (I mean, if the Pies bought Peter Eakins they'd buy anything wouldn't they) and the Peanut Man belonged to Vic Park . . . or so the locals thought.
The Peanut Man also loved the Western Oval, just a short trip along Footscray Road from his city newsagency, which closed on Saturday afternoons to accommodate his peanut vendoring. Johnny somehow managed to work his way inside the boundary line during the reserves games to sell his peanuts, but would be back on the spectator side of the fence come senior game time (he didn't want to push things). Johnny sold a truck load of nuts at the Western Oval and also managed to land a great parking spot nearby. No, the Peanut Man was a Western Oval icon.
When you think about it, Windy Hill was never too far from the city either. A short trip down Flemington Road then up Mount Alexander Road, Windy Hill was a good selling ground. We're now in the 70s and those wide median strips in and around Napier Street also provided ample room for parking and a short walk to the Hird Stand entrance where a couple of "blue coats" were always prepared to usher in the Peanut Man in exchange for a few bags of peanuts, a packet of smokes and maybe a copy of the latest Penthouse magazine. The Bomber fans firmly ensconced in the mid-1970s mediocrity their team wallowed in were big buyers of the peanuts. No, the Peanut Man was definitely a Windy Hill, Essendon icon.
Princes Park was never far away and hosted two powerful clubs as its major tenants. The Hawks, despite their successes, didn't draw big crowds, but the Blues certainly did. In the middle of a decade of dominance, Carlton was good for a big, passionate peanut-eating crowd. The fans, happy because their players despatched opposition teams with all the might and power the mosquito fleet could muster, were more than happy to buy peanuts, exchange theories on why Vin Catoggio was better on the ball than Rod Ashman and Jim Buckley, and cheer the barrage of goals that was sure to come in the third (premiership) quarter. The Robert Heatley Stand was a hot bed of peanut sales and the Hawthorn Stand was also great for unloading sack after sack of peanuts. For a boy who grew up in the heart of Magpie land this was foreign territory, was it not?
Funnily enough, the peanuts sales never went as well as one would have expected at Princes Park. Sure the crowd was passionate, keen, enthusiastic and up for their weekly fix of peanuts, but the Peanut Man was nowhere to be seen. “He was here earlier”, they'd observe, but just minutes into the last quarter he was nowhere to be found. Maybe the crowd found out that home for him was Collingwood born and lynched him.
Here is the truth of it. Princes Park was not as good a selling ground because the Peanut Man was caught watching the footy here, more than other venue, because his beloved Blues were playing.
That's right. The Peanut Man, despite being born and bred in Collingwood, surrounded by six Collingwood supporting siblings and a mad, one eyed Collingwood supporting mother, was a diehard Blue. Mad Carlton! A legacy of his dad who was Carlton bred and attended the old Carlton Primary School - you know, the old red bricked one in Nicholson Street.
So finally, John Boyd’s dirty little secret is revealed . . . not that John would describe it as a dirty little secret - he was Carlton and he was proud. But you, as the reader, may ask how this is known especially considering all the rumour, gossip and innuendo surrounding the man. How many times has a caller on talk back radio called in with some far-fetched theory about his wealth, concealed opulence and private life?
I can tell you categorically how I know this. Johnny Boyd, the Peanut Man, was my uncle. His youngest sibling was his sister Judith . . . and Judith Boyd, a state basketball representative in the 1950s, was my mother.
John was surrounded by the black and white, yet chose his own journey. While most of his family had ostracised his father, and not just for being a Carlton supporter, John stuck by him, regularly visiting him in his retirement hospital, taking him magazines, cigarettes and, of course, peanuts.
What Johnny did want was a legacy. A little Carlton mate to call his own. But of his many nieces and nephews, most supported Collingwood. One nephew, Len’s oldest boy Peter, was playing with the North Melbourne Reserves team in the 1970s. Peter was making his way through the program, dubbed “Barassi’s Babes”, and a photo of him with other recruits at the time including Stephen McCann adorned the wall of Johnny’s newsagency for many years. More on this legacy a little later.
Another of his nephews, Terry was a Blue but hardly a diehard. So what did Johnny do? He turned to me. Yep, I became a Carlton supporter (through little choice of my own), running around with a mop of blonde hair with a Number 2 on my back for “Big Nick” but looking more like a Ted Hopkins “Mini-Me”.
I even had the Ron Barassi plastic boots which I wore everywhere. I can still remember my feet sweating worse than a Turkish steam bath in those things. My mother had an apoplexy. My grandmother didn’t know who to kick, John or me. I think she kicked him. I was about four so I hope it was him.
John’s grand plan had one fatal flaw. You can’t sell peanuts and look after a four year old boy at the same time. He encouraged mum and Nan to take me to Carlton games but that only seemed to coincide with their twice yearly Collingwood clashes and even then it was only ever to Victoria Park. He encouraged a family friend, a die-hard Carlton man himself, to take me, which he did. I can vaguely recall sitting in the Rush Stand at Victoria Park with Harry and my brother (a one-eyed Pie) watching a Collingwood versus Carlton game. I cannot remember the exact year or round. Give me a break, I was only about five.
There was only so much a footy-starved kid could take without constant saturation of his heroes (not that I really knew any then, other than “Big Nick”) and the pull from my mother, brother and grandmother became too great. Yep - you guessed it, I made the switch and became a Pie, as I saw more games and succumbed to the awe of the great (and future Carlton player) Peter McKenna.
The year, ironically, was 1970.
The Peanut Man never let me forget the consequences of that decision through the premiership years of 1970, ’72, ’79, ’81, ’82, and ’87 with ’70, ’79 and ’81 at the expense of my now beloved Pies. Don’t get me wrong, he never rubbed it in, especially to my mum (and his mum) who would have beaten him to death with a stick (or broom in my mum’s case).
I remember vividly the night of the 1979 Grand Final when he came home from his Saturday evening stint in the newsagency, which also involved preparing the next day’s VFA peanut allocation, when he offered to take the family out to dinner as a joint commiseration/celebration dinner. Mum, and not too politely either, told him where he could stick his invitation. Mum was ungracious sometimes and this was one of those times.
I remember the family being sworn to secrecy in the early 70’s when Peter McKenna was injured in a game and ended up in hospital with kidney damage. The Collingwood cheersquad (those on parole anyway) organised a get well card to be presented to McKenna whilst he was recovering. All the cheers squad members signed it and that must have meant a lot of “Xs”.
But there was one more signature required. The Peanut Man, after all, was a Vic Park icon. Johnny was sought out and duly signed his name on the card followed by the obligatory Peanut Man moniker.
And yet he was fearful that if the Collingwood diehards ever discovered he was a Carlton supporter they would have hung him from the flagpole over the Ryder Stand.
He was probably right.
Johnny was a bit of a grifter in a way, always managing to snaggle entry into VFL venues by grafting the palms of the blue coat attendants with smokes, peanuts, magazines or books. In later years, when corporate caterers tried to crack down on him, he knew which of the “good old blokes” would let him in. He even got me and a mate into the 1979, ’80 and ’81 grand finals - standing room of course but that was good enough and as he told me “you’ve got young legs”.
I’d like to say that he shunned his notoriety, but deep down I know he embraced it. His sister Fran (my aunt and mother of his one Carlton-supporting nephew Terry) finally encouraged him to travel overseas and she escorted him with her husband Ern, first on a Pacific Island cruise and later to Europe.
In Suva, Fiji, a young boy, obviously a tourist was looking Johnny up and own. Auntie Fran always said you could almost hear the metal cogs in the boy’s heading churning, churning, trying to put it all together. Then he called out to his dad in an obvious Aussie accent, “Hey Dad - look over there, it’s the Peanut Man”.
A few years later in Munich, Germany, when Johnny was again encouraged to venture overseas out of the footy season, he was approached by a group of men. “You’re not the bloke who sells peanuts are you mate?” they asked. When he admitted he was he was set upon by a few of them amidst cries of “Guys, guys, it’s the Peanut Man”. John then posed for a few photos and I’m not sure who would have been more chuffed at this, the blokes or him.
John continued to work in his city newsagency despite not having any more nephews to encourage to sell papers. I enjoyed my time selling papers on a Saturday night. The Herald and the Sporting Globe (in all its pale pink glory) were the hot ticket items as the waiters in the Chinese restaurants were hanging out for the last race results.
The waiters and cooks in the Chinese restaurant across the laneway from the newsagency were always looking for the updated race results, a pack of smokes and a magazine or two. In return, many plates of Chinese food found their way across the laneway to Johnny and his many hungry paper sellers. It contributed greatly to my love of Asian food and also contributed greatly to Johnny’s somewhat portly stature.
Would Johnny be allowed to operate in today’s footy culture? No way. I cannot imagine him walking the aisles of Etihad Stadium or the Great Southern Stand (not sure why a stand at the MCG was named after Danny Southern) yet he is still remembered 20 years after his death.
“I remember the Peanut Man. He was always at” . . . insert your home ground of preference here.
John Boyd died in Ringwood on December 16, 1991, after suffering a massive heart attack. He was driving a friend to a weekly medical appointment at the time, for Johnny was always there for a friend.
His death was very sudden and unexpected. Had he lived he would have continued to sell peanuts until he could no more. He lived to work really, which was a little sad especially considering he spent so little on himself.
Hopefully my kids will understand, after seeing something like this make its way into football circles, what a unique character he was and understand why Steven and my older boy Michael are privileged to carry just a little of the Peanut Man legacy.
Johnny was the first of his siblings to die. He was fondly remembered and many men who were once paperboys from his city newsagency attended his funeral. Such was the man. He was their lifelong friend and mentor. He coached them in basketball at the old Newsboys Club of which he contributed many years of devoted, voluntary service. One of these lads, Harold Foster, remains a family friend and has attended the funeral of every one of John’s siblings out of respect.
And he still chokes up when we talk of the Peanut Man.
Interestingly John’s brother Len (deceased) is the grandfather of Western Bulldogs captain Matthew Boyd, meaning John is Matthew’s great uncle. Matt’s dad Peter was one of Barassi’s Babes. He never played a senior game but carved out a fine VFA career at Frankston, captaining the club at one stage.
John was very proud of that. He was very proud of the Boyd name and I know he would have been very proud of Matthew who is a fine football, leader and person.
John was cremated at Fawkner. He was remembered fondly by a large number of family and friends and eulogised by my brother and I. A large contingent of many paperboys from years gone by were there to pay their respects. Johnny loved the bagpipes and a sole piper played amazing grace as everyone departed the chapel.
It was a stirring moment. Perhaps he could have played Lily of Laguna?
There were many notices in the Herald-Sun for Johnny Boyd “the Peanut Man”
At the conclusion of the funeral my cousin Glenn and I, armed with a bag containing some of John’s Ashes, were raising a few glasses to remember the great man. We were in the Southern Cross Hotel, the scene of many a Brownlow Medal count, and were discussing what we knew we had to do, fondly recalling our beloved uncle. Glenn, a very handy footballer in his own right and once on St Kilda’s radar back in the 80s, is the uncle of Matthew Boyd.
Most of John’s ashes are interred with his mother in the Fawkner Lawn Cemetery. On a quiet, still and sunny afternoon in mid-December of 1991, Glenn and I scattered the remainder of John’s ashes at, where else, Princes Park.
And so the question beckons. How should John be remembered at Carlton? I’ve always liked to think that the peanut man belonged to everyone. If you thought he belonged at the Western Oval then he did. The same with Victoria Park, Windy Hill and Princes Park. Even VFA die herds associated him with their home ground. He was often at Cramer Street Preston and how he would have loved to sell his peanuts at Northern Blues games. City Oval Coburg was another favourite, even Williamstown which is where his VFA allegiance laid for some bizarre reason.
At Carlton I’d like him to be remembered not only as the Peanut Man but as a man who made his own decisions, broke with family tradition and reaped the rewards for having made that decision.
For Uncle John - “Go Blues!”. For me, it doesn’t need saying does it, especially not here.