Exiled Valiant Barry Edge lives in Perth, Western Australia and is a regular columnist for onevalefan. In this story he tells us about another football code and a man who would go to hell and back to be at the game.
South Fremantle is my local ‘Aussie Rules’ football club too. I have followed and supported them since we first arrived in Western Australia back in 1960. By 1975 I had become a member with all its rights and privileges plus reserved seating in the members’ stand. As member 484 I could invite a guest to each home game, move unrestricted in and around any part of the ground and its facilities – with the exception of the ‘Boardroom, meet the players before the game, be photographed with them, and be able to vote on non playing issues.
Anyway, back to Bluey. It was season 1988 and we were hosting a side called Claremont. Bluey was there as always. He used to say he would go to hell and back to be at the game. We sat in the same area approximately four rows down from one of the private members’ bars. As games go it was close encounter with neither side gaining ascendancy and Bluey had been more than his usual vociferous self. He had been jumping up and down and yelling at the players to get a move on. Then he began to shout at the umpire that he must have been suffering from an eye disability because he couldn’t see the wood from the trees. Next he turned his attention to several of the opposition players and indicated to them in no uncertain manner that if they behaved like that on the streets of suburbia they would be arrested and locked up.
It was almost quarter time when Bluey dropped down on the spot and lay motionless at our feet. The paramedics were on the scene in seconds because the ambulance post was less than twenty feet away from our section in the members’ stand. Whilst one of the paramedics conducted the usual CPR checks, the second was calling for an ambulance to take Bluey to hospital which, as luck would have it, was right next door to South Fremantle’s football ground. In fact patients would often be seen watching a game’s progress from the third floor balcony upwards.
Before the ambulance arrived the two paramedics had placed Bluey on a stretcher and covered his head with a blanket before taking him to the ambulance post. ‘HE’S DEAD!’ was the loud and plaintive cry from one of the members, ‘HE’S DEAD!’ Just then the siren sounded to end the first quarter of the game. But instead of the usual rush to the bars and toilets we seemed transfixed with abject horror.
After what seemed an eternity we gained enough composure to talk amongst ourselves. Who would be notifying his next of kin? Did anyone know if he had a heart condition? Shouldn’t someone inform the ‘Club President? At that point in time all such questions would remain unanswered. Then, just as the second quarter of the game was getting underway someone suggested that Bluey would have liked nothing better than to die watching his beloved South Fremantle. Several old timers duly agreed saying that they too would be happy to go out that way.
Although I continued to watch the game I couldn’t help but be distracted by such a sobering event and the suggestion that this was what Bluey would have wanted. Sure we had witnessed occasions where a bride and groom’s love for each other and their football team found them tying the knot at the beginning of a game in front of a football crowd, then watch the game before going to their wedding reception. A little daft perhaps. But certainly not fanatical.
I once worked with two Liverpudlians. Top blokes and great to have around in a crisis. Their politics were much the same. All things being equal they were good mates. Both were devoted family men. Both could put away the pints and tell great jokes. And both absolutely loved their football. In fact, they seemed to do nothing else but talk about football, football and football. Did I say talk? Well, most times anyway. But on certain days of the football calendar their agreed mateship for each other would take a huge nosedive. You see one was a Liverpool supporter, the other an Evertonian.
When it was ‘Derby Day these two, otherwise sensible men would almost come to physical blows arguing over which team was best on Merseyside. And being apprised of such ill feeling between them, the boss – an exiled Manchurian and Manchester City fan – would always endeavour to roster them apart when their two teams met.
Then there was the 1986 FA Cup Final. Both were definitely going to be there. For them the financial costs and the tyranny of distance of Australia, England and back again was not even a consideration. Being there in Wembley Stadium was all that mattered. And they both claimed their respective families understood without debate the importance of ‘this once in a lifetime football experience’. But before they left Oz they made a very personal wager.
At the time we all thought the two had lost touch with reality. Did the eventual winner really intend to go through with the bet? Was it akin to saying ‘mad dogs and Englishmen out in the midday sun’? And what did their families think of the wager? Did they know?
One person who did know was our boss. He said the winner would see the bet through to the bitter end if needed because there was no way either one would contemplate the ignominy of losing face.
Liverpool ran out winners 2-1, with Australia’s Craig Johnston scoring the winning goal. But what was the bet? Well folks, believe or not, when the Liverpool supporter’s wife gave birth to another son they christened with the first given name of each member of that victorious Liverpool side – including those on the bench. Unbelievably stupid? Absolute genius? Something in between? Fanaticism gone mad? Well folks, your guess is as good as mine.
So there we were, season 1988, and our mate Bluey – pronounced dead, on a stretcher, and covered from head to toes – had been taken away to the hospital next door. Perhaps weddings out in the middle of the oval, and giving your son numerous names after your football heroes is not so daft or fanatical after all. Well that’s what I was thinking at the time. Poor old Bluey. Then it occurred to us that we should nominate him for the Members’ Honour Role – to be done immediately after the game.
It was midway through the fourth quarter, approximately one hour after Bluey had been carried away, when a noticeable silence fell from just behind us followed by the startled words ‘BLOODY HELL, IT’S BLUEY, HE’S BACK FROM THE DEAD!’
It was unbelievable stuff. He came straight down and sat in his seat, asked for the score, then settled back to watch the rest of the game. We were absolutely gobsmacked.
At the end of the game members were coming from all over the ground to see if Bluey was okay, to buy him a drink, to take him home, to simply shake his hand. He told us he was ‘darned pleased’ to be alive, but somewhat embarrassed to have caused us distress, and totally bemused that he was being fussed over. He was darned pleased! What a poignant statement that was. I can tell you folks, so were we. Yes sir, so were we.
There is no doubt that his heart had stopped beating. However, it seems that before they had reached the ambulance post it had ‘kick-started’ again (Bluey’s words) and wasn’t detected by the paramedics until they wheeled him into the hospital. When questioned by the doctor why he wasn’t being placed in emergency the paramedics had answered ‘Because he’s dead’. Imagine their surprise, and that of the doctor, when Bluey called out ‘NO I’M BLOODY WELL NOT!
To cut an even longer story shorter, after Bluey had been subjected to the usual medical checks he simply got off the stretcher trolley and quietly walked out of the hospital. Next stop was his seat in the members’ stand. The rest, as they say, is history.
Over time we would enjoy a laugh or two about that 1988 event. And as far as I can determine he never again had to pay for another lager. There was always someone offering to buy one for him. He did say once that he wouldn’t be against the idea of his ashes being scattered on the playing surface of his beloved ‘Club similar to old yachtsmen requesting that their ashes be sprinkled over a favourite stretch of water. He did ask the ‘Club about the possibility. But the ‘Board was less than enthusiastic because it was more than probable that our Aboriginal football stars would refuse to play on the oval were the dead had been commemorated because to them that would sacred ground.
The only time that I know of where this has happened was when Port Vale FC honoured Ian White’s express wish for his ashes to be scattered on the hallowed turf of Vale Park.
Bluey’s gone now. But his story will live on in the folklore of the South Fremantle (Australian Rules) Football Club.
See you later…
August 14, 2003