Almanac Music: Forty-five years ago, ‘Far, Far Away’

 

 

Like certain smells, songs have the power to evoke strong memories of long gone times. Many songs take me back to the days of being a gawky, pimply 12 or 13-year-old, lying in bed with my transistor radio on, waiting for sleep to drag me under. Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’, Bob Marley’s ‘Is This Love?’, Bob Welch’s ‘Ebony Eyes’ are three songs that take me right back to that bed and my 13-year-old angst in 1978.

 

But there’s one song from three years earlier that takes me back to a specific day — 45 years ago today, in fact. April 12, 1975. The song is Slade’s ‘Far Far Away’. It was released in October 1974 but it was getting a lot of airplay on radio station 3XY in April ’75.

 

The song carries me first back to that morning. It was a Saturday. A new footy season had dawned a week earlier and a decision had been made that we could buy a new footy. I went with my older brother Jamie to Faulkner’s Sports Store, and we walked out with a brand new, shiny Ross Faulkner footy. I remember being a bit disappointed that Jamie hadn’t picked a T.W. Sherrin, but I think the Sherrin was a fair bit more expensive.

 

Anyway, the disappointment was fleeting and my feeling of excitement of bouncing the new footy (only on the nature strip, of course — never on the footpath or road) as we walked home is one that has rarely been matched. And as I bounced, ‘Far Far Away’ was playing in my head.

 

After a few kicks and some lunch, Jamie and I headed towards the station, ball in hand, to take the train to West Footscray to see the Doggies take on Fitzroy. I was still singing ‘Far Far Away’. Only the chorus — I had no idea what Noddy Holder was singing about. I just knew that the song made me feel happy, as did the sunny Saturday weather, having a new footy and going to the footy.

 

The world seemed perfect. It wouldn’t feel that way a few hours later.

 

Heading into the Western Oval we handed over the princely sum of 20 cents and grabbed a copy of the Footy Record. Footscray was hosting Fitzroy. Both sides were coming off losses, the Roys an honourable one to 1974 premiers Richmond, the Dogs a not at all honourable one to 1974 wooden-spooners Melbourne. Both sides were looking to get their first win for 1975 on the board.

 

 

 

I remember very little of the game itself. It was even for three quarters, Fitzroy three points clear at the final change. But the Bulldogs, resplendent in their “redesigned for colour TV” jumper and bright red shorts broke away for a comfortable win.

 

It should have capped off a perfect day. But something happened in the final minutes of the match that changed everything.

 

Neil Sachse, Footscray’s boom recruit from South Australia, grabbed a loose ball on the half-forward line and was looking to wheel around towards goal when he saw Fitzroy’s Kevin O’Keeffe bearing down on him. Sachse instinctively ducked his head. He was trying to protect himself but inadvertently did the opposite.

 

When the collision came, Sachse immediately collapsed to the ground and he did not get up. A minute passed, then two. Then another, and one more. The crowd around us on the grandstand side wing had assumed at first that Sachse had been concussed, but nothing worse. But as the minutes dragged on a sense of dread overcame everyone in the crowd. We all knew that something was seriously wrong.

 

 

 

 

‘Far Far Away’ was still playing in my head on the way home, but it was now far, far away from making me feel happy.

 

I think it was a couple of days later that we learned that Sachse’s collision has broken his neck. He was left a quadriplegic, never to walk again, let alone kick a footy.

 

These days I curse my wonky knees when I attempt a session of ‘kick to kick’ but sometimes when I head home bouncing the ball, ‘Far Far Away’ pops back into my head to remind me that things could be far, far worse.

 

I still love that Slade song, but it will never again make me feel as happy I was on that Saturday morning 45 years ago today.

 

 

 

 

Read more pieces about Neil Sachse, including stories from his biographer Mike Sexton. HERE

 

 

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About Andrew Gigacz

Well, here we are. The Bulldogs have won a flag. What do I do now?

Comments

  1. Ah the days of “boom recruits”

  2. I was there with my mum , Gigs. We were sitting on the fence line at the Barkly St end of the ground adjacent with where Neil Sachse had his terrible collision with Kevin O’Keefe. My mother was a midwife and she was really upset at the impact having a good knowledge of the damage Neil may have experienced; she was correct. I recall poor Peter Welsh tried to pick up Neil , unaware of his injuries.

    This weekend it’s 40 years since Ricky Thurgood had his horrific fall at Caulfield. He’s still alive though being a quadraplegic, with horrible brain injuries. His parents have spent 40 years caring for him. Ricky is now aged 61,and remains in his parents care. So sad.

    Both cases are sad memories of the risks involved in the sporting arena.

    Stay safe.

    Glen!

  3. Luke Reynolds says

    Sad tale Gigs.

    Love (and remember doing the same) the bouncing of the new footy only on grass.

    Interesting to note the two Rose brothers coaching against each other that day.

  4. Chris Weaver says

    An important incident to recall, Gigs. I also feel melancholy with ‘Far, Far Away’. I associate it with the Birmingham pub bombings, because I once saw a doco with one of the victim’s sister. She said her sister had been obsessed with Slade at the time she was killed and that ‘Far, Far Away’ was her favourite song.

    Mike Sexton’s book is fantastic – an underrated footy book. Neil Sachse’s mental strength is astonishing and the work he does alongside the University of Adelaide on improved spinal injury diagnosis will be groundbreaking.

    The Sachse incident is also recalled in another wonderful book: ‘The Rose Boys’, by Peter Rose. The effect that Sachse’s injury had on poor old Bob Rose can’t be underestimated, especially as it happened barely a year after Robert Rose’s accident.

    Peter Capes was the doctor who attended Sachse. He told the club board that the players would play on adrenaline for several weeks and then fall in a heap, which is exactly what happened.

    It’s an incident that I’ve always been interested in on a personal level, because a close friend was injured in a similar manner when I was teenager. The eight months that followed were a succession of visits to the Austin Hospital, then the Royal Talbot rehab centre in Kew. It’s a long story for another day, but the fact that my friend has gone on to live a remarkably successful life in spite of quadriplegia is something that will never cease to amaze me.

  5. Hi Gigs

    The clash of realities, especially in our teens and as we start to venture into the world, further from our family home, is challenging to say the least. A perfect day, as you describe beautifully, turned upside down in a moment. Did Footscray give Sachse support through the years after this terrible accident?

    Cheers

  6. Shane Reid says

    Sad story, thanks Gigs. I only knew vaguely about what happened to Neil Sachse that day. Given the way the game is played it’s a wonder there haven’t been more injuries like this.

  7. For those of us of a certain vintage, this is one of those games where you remember exactly where you were at the time.
    I was in Perth playing a late-season Under-16s away game of cricket for Aquinas College (the Catholics) versus Hale School (the Prottos).
    We were in the field while 3LO (on relay for 6WF) called the first three quarters of a VFL match (I don’t think it was Footscray-Fitzroy).
    6WF then crossed to their WAFL match of the day, in an era when it was a strong comp.
    I only learned of Neil Sachse’s dreadful injury when I read Perth’s Sunday papers, though, as Gigs mentioned, the severity only became evident a couple of days later.
    Having a brother-in-law in Canada who became a quadriplegic after being a passenger in a bus accident, I have great admiration and respect for people in the same boat.
    Gigs mentioned the Bulldogs’ made-for-colour-TV red shorts, but the Lions wore dreadful gold shorts in this game (thankfully, they only lasted the one season).
    Kevin O’Keeffe later played (1980-81) in the WAFL for East Perth before briefly returning to Fitzroy in 1982.
    And I have fond memories of Slade’s “Far Far Away”, associating it with carefree school days.

  8. I remember watching Laurie Sandilands on World of Sport. He looked very stressed as they asked him how Neil was going. Sad, sad day.

  9. I was there as well that day, on the grandstand side and I think like me, everyone just felt sick in the minutes after.
    A black day at the western oval.
    Leonie

  10. Craig Stephens says

    Thanks for sharing. A very sad sad day. Left a mark on the whole Bulldog family and for many years to come. Neil was also our prized recruit from SA. We didn’t get a lot of media exposure in those days but we did unfortunately after this tragic accident.
    Woof woof !

  11. Thank you very much Andrew.

    I saw my first game at the Western Oval almost half a century ago and can remember enduring some really dirty Saturday afternoons on Barkly Street. April 12 1975 is, without doubt, the saddest.

    Michael Sexton’s “Playing On” is a truly inspirational book that details Neil’s life pre and post accident. I thoroughly recommend it.

    Take care everyone.

    MCR

  12. Far Far Away (not to be confused with their later, and only US, hit Run Run Away) was Slade’s last major hit in the UK for the seventies. It came from ‘Flame’, a universally-canned film in which Noddy, Dave, Don and Jim played themselves, and if not quite the beginning of the end, it was certainly the end of the middle. For after 1974 they sank without trace. Few bands have dominated the hit parade and the radio airwaves for the length of time they did, and been so comprehensively and quickly forgotten afterwards.

    For about 30 years (ie until You Tube) I never heard Slade sing FFA or anything else on the radio, even the Golden Oldies stations. They were summarily dismissed by Melody Maker hipster and NME bedroom rebel alike as unworthy of their attention, like the Muds, Sweets and Rubettes of this world, bubblegum, lightweight, ‘commercial’ (the swine!), the swill which either the ‘legendary’ punk ‘revolution’ was destined to sweep away (if your choice of propaganda was NME), or lose their audience to the Queens and 10cc’s as they ‘grew up’ (MM). Yet whenever they were recalled, people only ever had good things to say about them. They were musically massively better than any ‘bubblegum’ crowd. They deserve better from music history..

  13. I had the absolute privilege of meeting,Neil many moons ago at a Woodville South fc breakfast when,Fred Chocka Bloch had been roped in to play his guitar a incredibly positive man with a amazing outlook on life

  14. Interestingly, Gigs, I was playing “Slade Alive” only last week.

    The Sasche incident surely is the saddest in the history of VFL/AFL. I remember discussing it with my school friends the following Monday at primary school. Without wanting to sound morbid, given the nature of our game I am surprised that we have never had another incident of this type.

  15. Mark Branagan says

    Nothing can take away from the Sachse tragedy but I have to give Gigs full marks for his immaculate reproduction of the ‘Footy Record’. Every Footscray score recorded meticulously but only a very token effort on the Fitzroy side of the ledger. True home-team spirit.

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