A Rookie’s Debut Can Be Costly (Personally)…

One oft asked question is, “Do you remember where you were when…?”

For my wife, this question could easily relate to her first sighting of a young North Melbourne rookie in 2008.

As is our want, my wife and I show up at training sessions following drafts to cast our ‘expert’ eye over the youngsters who will be donning our beloved royal blue and white stripes with pride over the coming years.

One of our favourite pastimes is to each identify with a player we hope will ‘make the grade’ that we can proudly claim to be ‘our own’ should that eventuate.

Admittedly, over the years we have had our share of ‘failures’ (names withheld to protect the innocent or guilty). Conversely, our reputations as ‘talent scouts’ remain somewhat intact by the deeds of some of the ‘chosen ones’ who have or continue to shine; Glenn Archer, Adam Simpson, Byron Pickett, Andrew Swallow, Michael Firrito and Nathan Grima to name six.

The lucky footballer nominated for ‘greatness’ by myself in December 2008 was Sam Wright. My wife categorically states that it is simply because he had the common courtesy to say hello! How dare she start to doubt my ability all of a sudden.

Happy to report that seasons 2009 and 2010 have seen very promising signs for young Sam.

For my wife, she was immediately drawn to a young player off to the side of the main group; a youngster who was attending his first training session and was listening intently to the tackling coach who obviously emanated from Melbourne Storm given the garb he was dressed in.

What better game to learn the art of tackling from.

She was attracted to this young man due to his sheer desire to learn. The lucky draftee who would get the nod of approval from ‘the better half’ was a youngster who we later found out went by the name of Ben Speight.

Hailing from Hope Valley in South Australia, Ben was selected with the clubs third round selection in the 2008 AFL Rookie Draft on 16 December 2008.

According to AFL records, young Ben was a ‘medium midfielder who reads the play well…smart use of the ball, and has good finishing skills…SA representative at NAB U18 Championships in 2008”.

My confidence grew as I saw Sam as a prospective key position player given his height whereas players fitting Ben’s description have, in the past, ‘come and gone’.

Time to broker a deal based on my confidence: a gift for the ‘winner’. Such a gift would either be the latest in technology or jewellery.

It revolved around Ben playing a senior game for our great club in either 2009 or 2010.

Ben was to become her ‘project player’. So much so that she declared at the start of 2009 season that besides his family, she would be the only one proudly wearing his badge on her scarf.

Bordering on stalking you may ask? Not quite.

During season 2009, she kept an eye on her protégée’s progress in our VFL affiliate’s competition. To the naked eye it appeared that not much progress was being made but young Ben did attain senior selection in the VFL approximately halfway through the year.

The deal was looking safe.

2010 saw sweeping changes at our club. New facilities. New energetic coach who expressed a desire early on to play ‘the kids’.

The deal was all of a sudden looking shaky.

The pre-season competition swayed things back my way with the youngster from South Australia not getting an opportunity to show his wares at senior level.

Look out iPods, iPads etc, here I come…

Early in the season proper, somewhere, somehow, someone changed the script without my knowledge. Perhaps my wife was involved in some sort of conspiracy with Brad Scott, The Speight family, Tiffany & Co…

Our new coach, who both of us have taken an instant liking to by the way but that’s another story, made it clear that young Ben Speight was in line for senior selection.

Then tragedy struck with our new (AFL listed) number 46 fracturing his jaw on 10 April against the Box Hill Hawks. This is neither the place nor time to advise you all of the exact expletives that came out of wife’s mouth: but they would not be uncommon in the outer at some of the local leagues.

No doubt Ben would be back.

Round 17: North Melbourne v Essendon at Etihad Stadium.

Arriving at the ground there was a sense of anticipation as the Rooboys took on a club that had been described as in a crisis with recently retired ex-players (and a coach) questioning where the club was heading.

This mattered little to North supporters who watched the team warm up. Something was wrong and at the same time, very right (for one of us in particular).

Daniel Wells was showing signs of a limp and as a result would be a very late scratching (some 10 minutes into the first quarter). Not only did this occur but two key backmen were also last minute withdrawals; Nathan Grima and Daniel Pratt.

One of our replacements was a readymade 135 game ‘veteran’ in Leigh Harding. 2010 had been a disappointing year for Leigh and with a growing injury list, the last five rounds of 2010 could be his final opportunity.

The other late inclusion was number 46.

My mind had registered who it was by I needed confirmation. A quick glance at the football record confirmed (my fear) that the bet had been lost and I would now have to live up to my end of the bargain.

Look out Tiffany & Co: I will be visiting you soon.

Apple will have to wait for season 2011 and (perhaps) beyond.

Whilst my wife was delighted that Ben had finally got to show his wares on the big stage, it was also the first time in 18 months that she had left her Ben Speight badge laden scarf at home.

A small disappointment on a night that proved financially costly for myself.

But my wife will always remember where she was when she first noticed Ben and where she was when he made his debut.

Bring on future drafts…

About Stephen George

I am an avid sports fan who admires anyone who can play or participate in sport at pretty much any level. My favourite sports are AFL, soccer, Major League Baseball, Rugby League and NFL. I have recently finished my Diploma in Sports Journalism and I am interested in improving my skills by contributing to the Footy Almanac


  1. Nice story, Stephen.

    I am absolutely astonished that the club actually sells Ben Speight badges.

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