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.
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.