Even Carlton Greats

 

 

When asked by a reporter if Ringo Star was the best drummer in the world, Paul McCartney replied: “He’s not even the best drummer in the Beatles.”

 

The trouble with Team of the Century lists is they’re subjective. I think Stephen Silvagni was the full-back of his age: both desperate and proud. A brilliant record down back, he could also be thrown forward if the game needed. But, in my mind, Geoff Southby was better. I’m sure he, too, could have pinch-hit at the other end if the late 60s and early 70s were ready for such stuff. He didn’t pull jumpers and hold like SOS did. In an era overflowing with great full-forwards, nobody ever kicked bags on him! And it wasn’t just that. He was, along with David Dench, the first full-back to say “I’m going to attack!” The two of them ran with the ball.

Geoff also had the most brilliant judgment. Unlike the dour full-backs before him, he went for his marks. He took grabs and launched attacks from the defensive goal-line, like SOS did decades later, like Scarlett and Lake after him.

Yet, in the height of Geoff Southby’s career, two Premierships under his belt, top of the world, something doubled him over.

And he wasn’t the only one.

I’ve talked to over one-hundred legends of the game for this book so far, ripper people, knockabouts, generous blokes, great orators, champions that oozed presence. None of them were as friendly, or engaging as the most courageous of them all. Ken Hunter. He was two-thirds through his career when the same thing that hit Southby nobbled him.

Kouta got it when his amazing career finished.

A great mate of mine, who was born old beyond his years, a bikie’s son in a rough rural town, who I coached as a lumbering kid and saw become a mighty young man, died as a result of the same thing last weekend.

It hit Geoff from nowhere. He felt he couldn’t tell anyone, had no energy, no will to do anything. Would disappear for no apparent reason, days at a time. His family would be worried sick. He seriously thought about final solutions. I mean, he had it all, yet there he was – suicidal. It made no sense, to him or anybody.

Kouta had a reason: the come-down of fame and glory.

Ken felt like the world was slipping away.

I have no idea how it gripped my mate, or in what ways it tore at him.

 

I met him through coaching the local Thirds. He was my second ruckman/forward pocket. One time, I took them on an end of season footy trip. He was still 15 years old, already 6 foot-plus, solid and bearded. We were at a petrol stop and he said to me:  “Back in a sec, Dogga,” strolled out of the bus, then back on just as easy, with some pornos he’d brought for the boys. They all laughed and cheered and put them on the windows and hit each other with them and jumped around like monkeys. Not him, though. He just sat back in the middle of them all, giving me a sly wink, grinning like gravy.

When we reached Tassie’s West coast, the kids were waiting for their fish-n-chips, bouncing around the foreshore, yelling at, chasing, dacking each other in front of tourists. I noticed my mate was missing. Looking up and down the street, I poked my head in the local pub to find him sitting amongst the old sea-salts, beer in hand, arm against the table, like them, lazily trading diesel mechanic stories. He honestly couldn’t see why I should drag him out of there.

I did, but me neither.

This young man became my laconic voice of reason. At the bar, helping me with my ute in his yard, at the footy:

“Ease up, Dogga.”

“Bit rich that, Dogga.”

“Reckon she’ll be right, Dogga.”

Twenty years younger than me, I thought the world of him.

“Yeah, you should sort that, Dogga.”

Too rebellious for school, he got a boilermakers apprenticeship, drove trucks and was employed as a welder. Hooking in with three other locals, the four of them roamed Tassie’s North East, inseparable. All of them thinking nothing of working 16 hour days, helping each other with motors, family and adventures, playing hard when time afforded them, always about the footy club on weekends. They packed decades into their time together.

He was a fiercely loyal person, with the biggest heart you’d find, putting himself last every time.

Now he’s gone. At 20. No reason.

That’s the hardest part, for everyone.

No reason.

None of us saw it coming, that he had these demons in him. That he suffered depression. He was too tough or proud or both to tell anyone. No-one can believe how well he kept it hidden.

No parent should ever have to bury their child. Ever! Some people say he was selfish for doing it. I refuse to believe that. I get depressed sometimes, but I’ve never had manic depression. I haven’t walked in shoes that torturous so won’t judge him.

Some people are haunted. It takes support from a great mate, family, therapy. But for many others it’s simply a chemical imbalance. Nothing happened to them, there’s no reason. Their brain is just missing some chemical the rest of us have that helps us function. Put them on the right treatment, and they’re more-or-less dandy.

But, either way, first they have to tell someone.

I worship Ken and Geoff and Kouta and others, like Wayne Schwass, who have been given so much through football, and are prepared to go public on something that’s the opposite image of what the game is projecting. To make it public.

I remember as a kid, thinking Geoff so strong, so invincible. No thug, just impossibly hard. Yet here he is, putting his heart out there for people to poke and prod. Being a roll model, and, in doing so, saving lives. I have no doubt about that.

I remember learning about courage by watching Kenny Hunter play footy at Princes Park, and have relearnt it, decades later, by listening to him discuss depression across a pasta restaurant table.

I remember watching Kouta play and thinking he had it all.

Not every hero wears a fireman’s kit, or doctor’s apron. Not every act of football heroism involves kicking the winning goal or taking a speckie. Good on you, Carlton players! What you’ve done is brave. It makes you Legends in ways beyond football.

If people with a public profile as big as theirs can ‘fess up such chinks in their armour to the world, surely, we can tell a loved one or a neighbour.

Our town just had a ripper send off, a ripper wake, the pub went off in memory of the absolute best of blokes, fights and all! But it doesn’t change the fact our mate’s gone, and we already miss him horribly. I feel much, much less for him going, goddamn it! Even though all of us are much more for having known him.

It’s not right. It’s just wrong. Heartbreaking.

 

If you suffer from depression, for fuck’s sake, tell someone! See someone! If you know someone who does, please, talk to them.

Comments

  1. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    A brilliant article on a vital subject while we as a society have gradually improved there is still such a long way to go it is ok to admit your struggling we must keep at it to try and rid this macho bullshit that you have to be a man and fight thru it .Females ( I admit I am generalizing and this is not always the case ) do talk more about there problems while we blokes talk about who is inj and plenty of bullshit . Depression and suicide is a subject close to me losing two groomsmen and another mate and thet is hardly a day go by when I don think of what else I could have done or a good memory come back in , Peters case I will never forget, Caroline saying to me if some one had said you would have been my biggest support I would have said they were a idiot I replied with the goal posts had changed now over 8 yrs later our friendship continues to grow , yes we might not chat regularly ( apart from facebook stiring ) but we will always be there for each other . As more research comes out there is a link between diabetes and depression and must be monitored regularly . I repeat , Matts wise words , EVERY ONE get a mentor or some one you can talk to as we all no problems in general are not as big when we talk about them !

  2. Luke Reynolds says:

    Very well written Matt. Very sorry for your loss.

  3. Part of the problem is that depression is seen as something that comes and goes. Therefore responses to it are only needed when it presents. Research is showing that there are neural pathways that are either not functioning or not present resulting in ‘blue’ days. The consequence of new therapies/drugs is that they activate or replace alternate pathways and therefore reduce the impact. However, even when the patient starts feeling better, drugs need to be continued in order to to maintain ‘stability’. The temptation to stop taking the stabilising drugs is strong, which often results in rapid deterioration.

    A close friend has now come to terms with the fact that each day fornthe rest of her life, she will be taking a pill. And as a result is functioning at a much higher level without disappearing for weeks at a time, emotionally if not physically. The amount of strength required to to do that and communicate it not just with friends but work colleagues is immense and admirable.

    There are too many people who should still be around to have a laugh with…

  4. E.regnans says:

    G’day Matt and thanks so much for posting this.
    Sorry to learn of your mate there.
    The more exposure and carry these conversations get, the better for all.
    Thanks again.

  5. Yvette Wroby says:

    Dear Matt, I am so sorry to hear your story and am glad you wrote it. This year is the tenth anniversary of my daughters friend who hung himself. The only positive to come from that was that my daughter had also felt suicidal at the time and his death fortified her to never go down that path. She struggles at this time every year and often takes a day off work and tends to herself. I will be taking dinner around that night. Depression had accompanied me through life as well and I have also worked as a psychotherapist/social worker for twenty years. These day writing, footy madness and art r my salves and I tend to myself if I feel vulnerable. Aging and health issues can also add to the mix. Two things helped me – creativity and cutting out sugar from my diet, which really helped with swings of mood. Being part of the almanac community has also bought great joy, support and friendships and a connection to a great bunch of people. Thank you for the sad but wonderful post

    Yvette

  6. Very sad. A parent should never have to attend their childs funeral. I buried my son (26) four years ago. Suicide. It is something that never leaves you. Stuff being a mach man, seek help, even it only through your mates, and if they laugh or won’t listen, they are not mates. Not a day goes by that I don’t miss Leigh.

  7. Great article Matt. With you on Southby as the best ever.
    As for the black dog, I have known it intimately. On much better terms with myself these days. Tell someone about “it”? Begs the question of what “it” is. If we wait until we are depressed to share, then we are always behind the eight ball. For me one of the keys is to get my inner dialogue/thoughts/fears/dreams/rants out – rather than bottling it up for fear of being seen as stupid/egotistical etc etc.
    Yvette and Rulebook are on the ball with having people and forums (like the Almanac) where you can let it all hang out.
    I am not a great fan of the chemical imbalance/drugs theory in the long term, because it gets causation wrong way round. Depression (bottling it up and not being your true self in the world) causes the imbalance. Not the other way round as drug companies and doctors peddle.
    Medication is really helpful for 6-12 months to get someone ‘over the hump’. But you have to learn to change your habits and ways of behaviour to stop turning that anger and frustration back in on yourself.
    Some of the heavier meds cause a lot of damage themselves if taken long term.
    Your clever young mate made me think of my favourite saying about my old self – “I’m so clever I could think my way up my own arsehole”.
    Thanks for raising an important subject Matt.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Thanks Matt for helping us all better understand, and thanks everyone else for your insights.

    We don’t always know the answers, but that shouldn’t stop us from talking about things.

  9. Terrific piece. Thanks, Matt.

  10. Matt, you know me, my husband, our family and friends. Firstly, I think this article is a wonderful tribute to a young man who was loved by many and thought of very highly in his community. I wish I had been fortunate enough to have the chance to meet him one day.

    The hardest thing for me about having varying degrees of depression is that when I tell many people about it, they do not believe me. I often get comments such as “But you’re always so happy!” So then you feel like a fool for trying to open up. But I am lucky, because I will tell anyone who listens. I have four children and a husband who works his ar$e off for us, a large family who love each other fiercely and friends who I would do anything for and vice versa.

    But I also know which pole on the road I would drive into.

    During my last pregnancy, I begged my husband to take me to Melbourne so they could ‘cut this baby out of me and leave me on the table to die’. I had convinced myself that the doctors would be okay with doing that. How twisted is that? The good thing to come from that is that my husband finally understood that things didn’t need to be bad in my life for me to be so horribly sad and that I really have no control over it. He is a real bloke’s bloke. A Bundy drinking bloke. Until that moment he had no comprehension of what this depression thing was about at all.

    About 18 months ago I weaned off all my medication. Quite a horrible experience. I replaced with meditation, reiki and a few other things. I will never be totally okay and will always have some hairy moments but hopefully I will continue to get through them.

    I admire you for writing about something that is very difficult to understand, and doing it with tact. I think you have done your friend proud.

  11. Brilliant piece, Matt, on a very painful topic. I feel your pain and share your bewilderment at the loss of your mate. I had to tell my (then) wife that her brother had killed himself. Then I had to go and tell his parents. And then his best mates. Several years later, though, I came within a whisker of taking the same action. You just don’t think of the pain that your actions will cause to others, such is yours. Luckily I shared my pain and many – including you – came to help me. But it’s a hard, hard thing to share. And even when you do, the pain does not disappear overnight. It’s a long road back. But I agree absolutely with your advice. If you’re suffering, talk to someone, no matter how hard it is. And keep talking. If you see someone suffering, talk to them. And keep talking.

  12. Thanks for sharing Turbo – such a sad story.

    Well done raising awareness for all.

  13. Malcolm Ashwood says:

    What is coming out just from us regular folk who posts comments is how many of us have a connection with both depression and suicide . Gigs your post above is courageous and so spot on and also to me shows how many folk try to hide it .
    Help each other !

  14. having a naturally caring community,like this footy almanac mob is ,greatly helps in situations like this.Great article Matt Zurbo.

  15. Paul Daffey says:

    Great article, Matt.

    Nicely weighted on difficult subject.

  16. Depression is an all too common fact of life in Australia. There are many ways of supporting, assisting some one who experiences this horrible illness. One of the most important ways is raisng community awareness of it, what it means, how it affects people ,and what supports are out there. In the last 15-20 years a lot of the mystery/stigma of talking about it has slowly dropped away meaning we are starting to discuss it. For all the sadness of Mitch Clark retiring beacuse of his ill health, the fact his illness is now public helps all of us understand the impact it can have upon people , no matter who they are, or where they are in society.
    One important way to help is by suppoting organsisations like Mental Health First Aid , http://www.mhfa.com.au . Vist their web site to find out more. I highly recommend it. Maybe you can sponsor some one like Dean Mighell, who is about to go on a motor bike ride around Australia, to raise funds for tackling this issue.
    As some one who has worked in the mental health field, which includes me being a Mental Health First Aid instructor, I feel it is important all of us have a better understanding of the debilitating efects these illnessess have .
    Glen!

  17. All power to you Matt,
    As someone who had my first experience with depression late last year at the age of 42 having previously thought that my mental health was something totally within my control I can say that keeping the conversation an ongoing one is one of the most important aspects of this battle. My own episode resulted in an unsuccessful suicide attempt and prior to that I would have thought that this action would contain elements of weakness and selfishness.
    In reality nothing could be further from the truth.
    My learning was that the opposite of depression is not happiness but vitality. You capture that perfectly in your description of the players you speak about.
    The power of communities whether virtual like this one or local sporting communities to support and prevent these episodes is huge. I cannot express the amount of healing I gained from coaching junior cricketers and playing sport for the sheer joy of it rather than the result.
    I have found no stigma attached to my own illness and am looking for ways to use my experiences to support others. I can truly say that articles like this will have positive ripple effects that you will probably never hear about.
    So well done on confronting a difficult and tragic story with such insight and compassion.

  18. Rick Kane says:

    Hi MZ

    Thank you for a wonderfully told story of an ailment so sad, so very, very sad. You have covered so much ground and with empathy, as well as a keen eye for detail. I would have loved to have walked in that pub with you to find your mate enjoying belonging.

    Can I make a couple of observations? It is right to say, for fuck sake tell someone. Sadly, the fact that people don’t and more importantly, the reason they don’t is a starting crux of this swirling, never quite clear enough to grasp problem.

    Our general understanding, appreciation and capacity to engage mental illness (both as individuals and as a community) is still more crude than developed. The stigma that surrounds mental illness is suffocating. An individual, especially a young person, is on a hiding to nothing even talking with their closest and dearest.

    As much as we want to encourage people to talk (because that is the first step) it is my experience that it is so much easier expected than done. Once the person has spoken up (and imagining they are treated respectfully when they do) they then embark on a still difficult, fraught, gravel road towards diagnosis and then, over years, hopefully, some resemblance of reasonable acceptance within family, community, employment and beyond. I can only imagine how heavy is their burden, day after gruelling day.

    The company I work for assist people with mental illness find jobs, sustainable employment. We have been arguing with governments of all stripes and persuasions for 20 years that government, community, employers must work much harder to break down the stigma of mental illness, so that people with mental illness feel more comfortable to talk, to open up. Even today, more than 30% of small to medium employers would not even consider hiring a person if they knew the person had a mental illness. Another 35% sit on the fence.

    There is much work to be done still to give the person with a mental illness the supportive context to talk. Every single person, who has a public profile that speaks up about this serious medical problem, is to be applauded. They definitely are helping make it easier to speak up. But the emphasis, as I understand it, should come done much more on breaking down stigma to give the person the trust that when they speak up they will be heard and appreciated and respected.

    Cheers

  19. Steve Fahey says:

    Thanks Matt, a great article on an important topic and my sympathies to you.

    Great contributions by many above – the only thing I would like to add is that sometimes what makes it hard for people experiencing depression or other mental illnesses to speak up is the way that they perceive those in their milieu talk about mental illness and those suffering mental illness. Sometimes the labels that are used, often in jest, with no intention of hurt or malice inhibit people who need help from doing so for fear they are similarly labelled. We all have a responsibility to make it easier to talk about and seek help for depression and other mental health issues.

  20. Malby Dangles says:

    Thanks for this Matt!

  21. Matt

    Brilliant and thank you.

    There were some really spooky and gasping moments in this article and the thread that followed. When you revealed the kid was just 20 was the big one. Ouch.

    Then Hapasi talking about picking out the pole she’d drive into. That’s haunting and real.

    All credit to the fine Almanac contributors and well-known names, as well as the others above who chose to reveal their relationship with this issue, either as personal sufferers or counting the cost and reliving tragedies every day since.

    Thanks Matt, brilliant piece, sorry for your and their loss too

    Sean

  22. Well written Matt.
    So real.
    Such a difficult a subject to write about and to share with so many.
    And how terribly sad for this young man, his family and his friends.

    Kate

  23. Thanks so much for elevating a subject that we need to have priority, the fact that he was a great mate only makes is sharper. Good luck Pal.

  24. Matt Zurbo says:

    Thanks heaps all for the contributions. Depression is a disease that hides in the dark. There is more than one kind, obviously, and more than one way to deal with it. But it all starts with shedding light.

    Saint 66, thank you very much for your honesty. I hope we meet one day. Hapasi, that was heartbreaking, then lifting in the one comment. I’ll stop in and see you and Mr. Bundi when next in that corner of the world.

    Take care all. Thanks again.

  25. Keiran Croker says:

    Thanks for sharing Matt.

  26. Vaughan Menlove says:

    Fantastic article. As someone who has dealt with depression and has seen others suffer with this illness, it is great that we are seeing articles like this

  27. Your writing shines through again Matt – thanks for sharing this with all of us and it is great again to see how the Almanac community engages with each other through the comments – some really inspiring stories coming through here.

  28. Troy Hancox says:

    great article. There wouldn’t be many a folk that would not have had a friend, family member or associate suffer from depression. It is a very common thing.
    Life’s pressures are massive…. life is tough. But talk is cheap. Yes, we don’t speak out enough. I don’t know anyone who would turn thier back on someone who opened up abouth their depression!!
    I share the same sentiments with yourself too Rulebook!!
    There isn’t a day go by, that i don’t think of the late great Peter Russo!

    A mentor, a gentleman and a great friend. Great work mate. Great team mate (i was truly lucky to have worked, played and shared many a laugh, and cry with Peter. (even now as i type)
    I asked him many a time if he was ok, was he thinking of doing anything “silly”.
    Mentioned i was worried about him to many a work and team mate , my wife, etc….(work & cricket).

    I never saw it coming!! Even 3 days before his way too early exit. ( when i visited /saw Pete)

    Still pains me to type, think and except his fate.

    MISS YOU PETE. R.I.P
    WE ALL MISS YOU.

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