Almanac Cricket: Vale Eric ‘Fritz’ Freeman, a man for all seasons



Sadly, Test Cricketer and Port Adelaide footballer Eric Freeman has died. The Footy Almanac reprises this tribute by Michael Sexton from 2016.



Ian Chappell Eric Freeman Sir Donald Bradman 1971 (supplied)

Ian Chappell, Eric Freeman and Sir Donald, 1971 (supplied)



Imagine Adelaide airport in early September 1968. It is Saturday morning. The passengers clamour down the stairs, buffeted by the spring winds whipping across the tarmac. Men grab their hats and curse.


Inside the terminal a young woman is on tippy toes straining to see through the window. She is trying to catch a glimpse of her husband who has been away overseas working for six months.


She is Diane Freeman and it isn’t hard to find her husband Eric whose height and build makes him stand out from the other passengers. He is returning from England where he has played his part in Australia retaining the Ashes.


While away they have spoken only once when a wealthy Middlesex cricket supporter invited Freeman and Ian Chappell to a party at his home and offered the use of his telephone.


Inside the terminal the Freeman’s daughter Michelle is told her dad is home. Soon she is engulfed in the family reunion. It broadens when Freeman’s parents and parents-in-law circle around.



1968 Australians London

The 1968 Australians in London


Then another figure emerges from the edges.


Fos Williams has let the family have its moment. Now he offers his hand in congratulations before getting down to business.


“How fit are ya?”


That afternoon, North Adelaide and West Adelaide are contesting the first semi final. Port Adelaide has the weekend off but faces Sturt next Saturday in the second semi final. Sturt has had the wood on the Magpies and Williams is turning over every stone.


Williams admired Freeman as a player who could make things happen. Embedded in his physical gifts is a precious dose of optimism.


Mark Williams remembers his dad telling him that even if Fritz had missed everything all day, at three quarter time he would urge the others to get him the ball promising to turn the possessions into goals.


Chappell identified the same trait in cricket. He points to a match against New South Wales in February 1971 in Adelaide. Freeman damaged his hamstring on day one while taking 5/41 and needed a few needles to get back into the field in the second innings.


The visitors were 1/86 chasing 320 when Ashley Mallett injured his hand.


The skipper turned to Freeman asking if he could give him another spell. He responded with 8/64 to win the game and clinch the Sheffield Shield for South Australia.


The Don poured the champagne in the rooms afterwards.


Chappell says Freeman’s vision of light at the end of any tunnel was infectious.


It was Don Fletcher who first identified Freeman’s gifts in the early 1960s. Fletcher was an old war horse from Port Adelaide who played each match knowing at the end he wouldn’t owe anyone anything.


Fletcher was coaching Semaphore Centrals when he spotted a pudgy kid with a dead eye.


He told the Magpies about him. Said he was a match winner.


Freeman didn’t have to be asked twice to come to Alberton Oval. His nickname Fritz is the most South Australian of monikers but beneath the state pride runs an even deeper loyalty to Port Adelaide.


His grandfather George was a fisherman. His father Wally was a coxswain at Outer Harbour. A sign erected by the Harbours Board marks “Freeman’s landing” at the Port – honouring more than a century of service given by Wally and his two brothers.


Eric worked for the Savings Bank of South Australia at the Port Adelaide Branch.


In cricket season he would take the new ball in tandem with Neil Hawke. They stayed together as the summer wore on, swapping the black caps for red ones and then baggy greens.


In winter Fritz took off his white shirt and laced up the black and white prison bars.


He was a big forward with enough athleticism to leave the goal square and create opportunities on a flank or pocket if needed. He fed off the Magpie pride.


Chest out. Strong hands. Long goals. No excuses.


He played 116 times for Port and seven for the state. He was in the 1965 premiership side and is fourth all time on the club’s leading goal scorer list with 390.


He wouldn’t turn up to play footy until cricket season ended and so skipped pre season training. That didn’t matter. His team mate Neville Hayes says when he arrived he was “fit as a scrub bull from all that bowling.”


Which is why Fos was tugging at his cuff at the airport in 1968.


He knew Fritz would never say no to the Magpies.


He also couldn’t say no to his old cricketing team-mate Denis Brien when he rang him a few years ago asking for some help.


Brien had left Port and shifted to West Torrens where his enthusiasm seems endless. As President, coach and historian he curates the past, tends the current and cares for the future. He is at four matches every weekend.


In the early 1970s he was running a coaching clinic when a woman walked up to dragging a scruffy looking kid behind her.


“This is my son David and he wants to play cricket.”


Brien found him some gear and put him into the nets. The kid had enormous flair but needed someone to teach him technique and to understand the game.


Was anyone more proud at the Centenary Test watching David Hookes smack Tony Greig to all corners of the MCG than Denis Brien?


A decade ago Brien was selecting kids for the Ray Sutton Shield which is a tournament for boys under 13. He saw kids with talent missing out and walking away with shoulders slumped. So he started an academy called the Young Eagles to give them some extra sessions and help bring them on.


It grew and grew. So he called Fritz.


Would he help? Of course.



Eric Freeman 2 photo Michael Sexton

Eric Freeman Pic: Mike Sexton


Eric freeman photo Michael Sexton

With some encouraging words



At the beginning of each year Brien introduces Freeman this way:


“Who knows who Eric Freeman is?”


No one says anything


“He opened the bowling for an Australian eleven”.


Jaws hit the floor.


“They do a bit of work on google,” says Freeman “because the next week they say you played 11 tests and took 8/64 against New South Wales to win a final.”


Brien is 75 and Freeman 71 but their dodgy knees and stiff backs still get them around the sessions. Their voices are clear. Instructions are positive.


“We teach them the basics. If they have any aspirations for shield or test cricket they will never get there if they don’t have the basics. We won’t tolerate ramp shots or 20/20 stuff. They really knuckle down and work hard – so do we,” says Brien.


A measure of the success is that inside a decade of the first clinic, six of West Torrens first XI were graduates.


Freeman taps his chest when he recounts the statistic, saying it makes his heart pump a little bit faster.


After the session ends, the kids drag their bags toward their parents who haul them into the back of SUVs and drive home. Brien and Freeman put the remaining gear back into a shipping container and lock it up.


After this Freeman is off to sign a few cartons of books. His story Man for All Seasons has been written by David Jenkins.


Rather than a triumphant anecdote, the book begins with the great sadness that hangs over Eric, Diane and Michelle Freeman.


“We lost our son David to suicide, so we had to pick up the strings from there,” he says, his voice trailing off.


They don’t know why David took his own life. There was a note to his wife and children. He was 29.


After delivering the eulogy at his son’s funeral, Eric Freeman again stood before a community in mourning when his teenage grandson died. Michelle’s boy, Matthew Kaloschke died of pneumonia and septicaemia, complications of colitis.


The Freemans speak of their tragedies with dignity. There is no filling the gaps in their lives.


The lesson they have been so cruelly taught is that every day is precious. They are fit enough to travel and so they do. When they walk together they hold hands. They gently finish each other’s sentences.


“We have two lovely grandchildren. We make the most out of life now. It must go on – it’s changed our lives. We are very close and do everything together.”



Eric Freeman Denis Brien photo Michael Sexton

Eric Freeman and Denis Brien


Sport provides the seasonal rhythms and rituals.


It also offers possibility.


What if you took the old ball and ignored a bad leg and won the match? Maybe if you stepped off a plane and trained for a week you could come off the bench and kick a couple of goals in a final? What if a scruffy kid without gear has enough talent to play for Australia?


What if it just offers some light at the end of a tunnel?


Imagine Football Park in winter 2008. Forty years after the airport scene. Port Adelaide’s AFL season is spiralling into the abyss. Mark Williams has just watched his side get flogged again. A harsh winter wind whips across a near empty stadium.


Williams is making his way from the change rooms. He trudges through the corridor on his way to a press conference to explain why it is all going wrong. Others look at their toes as he passes.


Then a figure emerges from the edges. It is Eric Freeman who is working for ABC radio. Williams listened to his crystal set as a kid when Fritz helped win the Ashes in 1968. He and his twin brother Anthony told each other in amazed tones that this was the same bloke they knew from football. The one dad said could make things happen.


Freeman grabs his arm. Does he want an interview? No. He tells Williams about confidence and keeping himself up and believing in himself and believing in the club. The club will endure he says. You will endure.




Neil Hawke Bill Lawry Eric Freeman England 1968 Ford Zephyrs



Read more stories from Mike Sexton HERE.


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About Michael Sexton

Michael Sexton is a freelance journo in SA. His scribblings include "The Summer of Barry", "Chappell's Last Stand" and the biography of Neil Sachse.


  1. Wonderful yarn Mike about a classic Croweater. Thanks.

  2. Dave Brown says

    I miss Fritzy on the radio. I found out about his past achievements long after having heard him on the radio. Becoming hard to imagine former players as commentators who don’t constantly talk about their own careers. Don’t remember Fritz doing that even once. Champion!

  3. Wonderful story Mike. I like pieces such as this that show us more about the man himself. He seems courageous and passionate and grateful.

    I will always become agog at the thought that someone can be a Test cricketer and a league premiership footballer. It reminds me of Nick’s declaration at the start of the Great Gatsby (about which I think too much) – ” now I was going to bring back all such things into my life and become again that most
    limited of all specialists, the “well-rounded man.”

    Thanks very much Mike.

  4. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Well told Mike (and very good photos too) – they don’t make ’em like Fritzy any more, pity about his bung knees (sorry)

    Dave’s right about Fritzy on the radio too.

    Thanks. Must track down that book.

    ps – knowing Bradman, that’s probably Pineapple Pearl that he is pouring

  5. wazwallaby says

    January 1969, 11 yrs old, first cricket match attended, Aus v WIndies 3rd Test, on the concrete concourse in front of the Sheridan Stand. A packed house, legends in play, Sobers, Hall, Stacky, Garth McKenzie…Eric Freeman hit three towering 6s in an innings of 76, the only 6s of the entire match. First 6s I’d ever seen hit! A six!! Watching that red dot arc against the blazing blue sky was unforgettable, and indeed never forgotten up to now. End of the day we kids invaded the pitch, none of that now, and raced to shake hands with Clive Lloyd who had impressed all, fielding in cover and chasing down ball after ball..Dougie got a ton that match as well. I was taken by my neighbour Mr. Wilson, who had played grade cricket in Sydney with Bobby Simpson’s elder brothers. He died last year aged 91, also not forgotten.

  6. Dr Goatboat says

    Good story….I remeber him too as an early champion of the long drop punt for goal, at a time when the torp was still much favoured

  7. Alasdair MacGillivray says

    What a wonderful yarn – and brilliantly written Mike.
    Really enjoyed that.

  8. Great story Mike, such an interesting career he’s had.

  9. Thanks for that, Michael Sexton, who, to fill in the blank box in the ‘About…’ section below the story is an SA author of several excellent books mainly about cricket, so get out there and buy his stuff. Now, where was I…?
    Mike’s piece on Fritzie gives me an opportunity to reminisce about Neil Hawke, also a tough centre half-forward and Australian Test cricketer. He and Fritzie had bizarrely parallel careers, albeit about a decade apart, overlapping in the late 1960s/early 70s. Both were burly, ruggedly-handsome centre-half-forwards who played for Port Adelaide and favoured the then-unfashionable drop-punt; and fast-medium quicks who swung the ball about a bit. After ‘retiring’ from footy and establishing himself in the Aussie Ashes squad (but before Fritzie got the Test call-up), Hawke sensationally made a footy comeback now with West Torrens and kicked (I think) eight in his first match back. So there were Hawke and Freeman both tonking goals in the SANFL. A few years later, they were the opening combo for Australia, in at least one Test, I think against a touring India side.

    Then footy injuries, first to Hawke then Freeman, reduced their cricket effectiveness and they both sort of faded away from the international scene. ‘Hawkeye’ left us in the most miserably undeserved tragic circumstances, succumbing to, of all things, a peanut allergy which forced him to endure 20 years of ill-health before his passing in 2000. Why can’t shit like that only happen to bad people?

    Fritzie of course lived on to notoriety as a media commentator; like Richie Benaud, well-known to a generation of kids (like Dave Brown, see above) in that role rather than as a player.

  10. Great story and photos about a very good sportsman and an even better person.
    My father Don worked for the Savings Bank of SA all his working life, so ‘Fritzy’ was an icon in our house (despite playing for the hated Port Adelaide Magpies). I can remember him coming to Yorketown for Sportsman’s Nights in the early 70’s asking no more than a beer, a feed and a bed. He did it all for his love of people and sport (in that order).
    His slide evenings had glimpses of the exotic London of the Swinging 60’s that your final photo of Hawke, Lawry and Freeman shows. He was largely a fringe player on the ’68 tour consigned to county matches, and he had plenty of tales of the other backup players like Les Joslin and Dave Rennenberg with too much time on their hands. And of touring India, using scotch whisky when you brushed your teeth and a diet of mainly bananas to avoid Delhi Belly.
    After he had retired from first class sport himself I can still recall his generousity with his time and bringing a young Malcolm Blight up to Kadina for a similar event.
    Dennis Brien is a familiar name too from a few games of D Grade I played for West Torrens in about 1973. Being in awe of David Hookes in the nets.
    Great stuff and so good for the soul to see these two outstanding gentleman still giving back to sport and the community. Thanks Mike.

  11. charlie brown says

    A really good read thanks Mike. I thoroughly enjoyed that. And yes Eric Freeman and his wife Diane have endured more than their fair share of grief. What a South Australian icon. The Academy lads are very fortunate to have a man like Eric Freeman deeply involved in their cricketing careers. And like others i too miss Fritz on the radio.

  12. Malcolm Ashwood says

    Fantastic article about a quality quality man

  13. James Lang says

    Having had the privelege of meeting Fritzy, he’s a great bloke. He had an amazing career across my two favourite games. I remember him for many years as the busy statistician in Roger Wills’ ABC radio footy commentary team in Adelaide, he was always the consummate professional across the airwaves.

  14. great piece.

    a whole heap of them exist in almost nowhere land, Hawke, Freeman, Connolly, Renneberg, Allan, Mayne, Hoare, MIsson, Guest plus Watson. McKenzie from one end, those from the other.

  15. Geoff Reynolds says

    Fabulous article by Michael Sexton, I hadn’t seen this before & there was much included that I had no awareness. Although I’ve not met Eric face to face, I was given his mobile number & had occasion to ring him last November regarding a Legacy speaking engagement arranged with Roger Wills, his good mate, fellow commentator & regular coffee attendee. Unknown to me, the Freemans were in Queensland, grey-nomading & I apologised for my interruption but Eric dismissed this stating that he still had the current magnificent beach view to enjoy while chatting! He provided as much information as he could & while we chatted he naturally raised the loss of his son David & unaware, I offered my condolences. Although thankful, he simply reminisced about David, losses generally & Roger’s & another mate Les Burdett’s exceptional support beforehand, at the time & ever since. Towards the end of his generous chat, I mentioned that my nephew played cricket at Port Adelaide, to which he advised me that he had presented him with his first eleven cap on debut – wow a fact that I did not know! He added that my nephew & he had shared experience of playing both cricket & footy for Port, of course Eric modestly did not mention that he had gone on to play at higher levels! I was so humbled by the conversation – Eric Freeman a great man.

  16. I believe Ron Kneebone gave Fritz a real welcome to League Footy (2 black eyes from memory). I never met Eric but i certainly followed his cricket career and admired his footy skills. I did however know his Father. Wally ran a launch at Outer Harbor. When the ships were docking the launch would bring the mooring ropes to the wharf. The launch was then moored in what us fishermen called “The Little Wharf” bordering the OH Yacht Squadron. It was later named “Freeman’s Landing”. Wally was a real gentleman (I got to know him fairly well) and let my mates and i fish from his wharf even though their was a locked gate to it. Wally knew my mates and I would look after it. Naturally Wally was pleased to share with me Eric’s exploits and I always looked forward to a quick mag.with him

  17. matt watson says

    I love reading articles like this.
    The history. The achievement.
    And playing SANFL and Test cricket.
    I can’t remember Eric, but it’s great to see him still involved.
    History never dies, as long as people take the time to write like this.

  18. Peter Myers says

    Those buffeting spring winds of September mentioned in the opening sentence used to wreak havoc on quite a few finals played at Football Park!

  19. Dean Armellin says

    Eric had the distinction of being the first batsman in test history to score a six from his first ball in test cricket to get off the mark.

  20. Mark Milner says

    What an incredible character Eric Freeman is, a true champion in every sense of the word.

  21. Just terrible news,Fritzy went thru a lot of tragedy in his own life but always had a caring disposition helping others immense respect,RIP Eric Fritzy Freeman

  22. What an amazing foto. Chappelli & the Don together; smiling. Victory in the 1970-71 Sheffield Shield healed all wounds, or at least as long as a photo shoot.

    Intriguing point raised by Dean. A might fine claim to fame.

    My only ‘real’ memory of Eric Freeman was at the ‘G’ in 1968-69 swept a ball from John Gleeson into Freeman’s head at shot leg. Subsequently the ball rebounded to Keith Stackpole who caught it. ‘He’s Out’, was the cry; indicating Nurse wa sdismised. Freeman thought they were talking about him, stood up stating he was fine.

    Vale Eric Freeman.


  23. Whoops typo. It was West Indian batsmen Seymour Nurse who swept a ball from John Gleeson into the head of Eric Freeman, for the ball to rebound to Keith Stackpole.


  24. I the sixties, when I fished from a wharf close to the Royal Yacht Squadron, a launch used for mooring ships was skippered By Fritz’ father, Wally Freeman. I struck up a friendship with Wally and he would allow me to fish there even when the wharf was locked. After he retired the Little wharf was named “Freeman’s Landing”. Anyway, as you would expect, Wally was very proud of his son’s achievements Both Wally and Eric were great blokes

  25. Lucky to have spent an hour or two with “Fritzy” on the day he launched his book “Man For All Seasons”. What a delightful man to have a chat with. A good read about a very talented footballer and cricketer. In another era he would have played more test matches.
    Also loved listening to him giving out the stats at both the cricket and footy on the ABC.
    Vale Eric.

  26. Graham Campaign says

    Very Sad to hear about Frttz’s passing…..always remembered as a dear teammate …gone but never forgotten

  27. Mark Powell says

    Had the pleasure to play against Eric when he made a comeback for Port in the district cricket in 1985, he would have been 41 then. He made 80 odd runs and can testify he still hit the ball very, very hard. Fielding at short cover I managed to get my hands to one of his cover drives dropping a tough catch but saving a certain boundary. Eric immediately called out’ great try lad’ clapping his hand against his bat.
    An SA legend!

  28. Warwick Nolan says

    Memories included listening to the transistor under my pillow at night.
    After a reasonable tour, Freeman did not play in the decider at The Oval.

    Wonderful writing Michael.
    Thank you for this.

  29. roger lowrey says

    Well played Michael.

    I remember that Eric had such an easy effortless bowling action unlike the somewhat jerky action of Neil Hawke. Mind you, that didn’t stop the latter from taking lots of wickets.

    It didn’t matter. At Winchelsea CC training nights my colleagues judged that I could do both of their actions better than they could do themselves. And Dave Renneberg, Alan Connolly, KD Walters, Graeme McKenzie and a few others as well.

    Never met him but he sounds like a fine human being.


  30. Daryl Schramm says

    Was at a monthly lunch today when I heard the news. Saddened. Don’t recall ever meeting Eric but certainly followed and admired his achievements. Can’t help imagining what club cricket in Adelaide was like if you were playing against the test opening attack when up against the Magpies.

  31. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Even his nickname had a nickname. What a ripper. Vale Fritzy

  32. Bernard Whimpress says

    Classic piece, Mike.

  33. Peter Crossing says

    RIP Eric Freeman.
    After his retirement from senior cricket I remember Eric’s involvement with Crusaders (SA) matches with school First XI teams. Never forgot his beginnings in the game.
    Excellent writing, Michael.

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