Ben Cousins and The Chase

Ben Cousins is a father. A son. A brother. A friend.

One day soon, we will wake up and hear his name (again), on the radio, on the TV, on Facebook or Twitter. He will be dead.

Driving through suburban Perth on Wednesday night, Ben ran multiple red lights. He refused to pull over, when indicated to by police. He refused a breath sample. He’ll be in court (again) in April, defending charges resulting from yet another ‘chase’.

‘The Chase’; someone should trademark that. Maybe it will be the title of the book they’ll write, or the movie they’ll produce, upon his death.

Ben the footballer was special, from the very beginning. From good stock, Ben always seemed destined to crack the ‘big league’ like his father couldn’t quite.

Bryan Cousins was a WAFL legend, winning the Brownlow-equivalent Sandover Medal in 1983 in a career spanning 238 games for Perth, from 1970 to 1987. Sandwiched between was a 67-game stint for Geelong, between 1975 and ’79. Like his son, Bryan yearned for the Swan River whilst away, playing his best footy when his heart and mind were contented with the surrounds of home.

Ben had every opportunity to be the best West Australian rover since Barry Cable, maybe the greatest ever. Like Cable before him, Ben played out of a forward pocket to begin his career, kicking 34 goals from 20 games in 1996 and winning the Rising Star award. There wasn’t a hotter young name in football at the time; the craft of Cable and the boyish good looks of a young Guy Pearce made ‘Cuz’ an uber-celebrity in his hometown. It made him, but it broke him.

‘Try it once and you’ll be hooked’. I’ve always treated that statement disdain; surely not? For Ben it seemed to be true. But just one hit, at a party with his girlfriend as a teen, and he was hooked. Not all the time, not at the beginning. The Chase arose out of that first high however, one that Ben is still in pursuit of.

The Chase continued on and off the field for Ben. An All-Australian and all-nighters.  Captaincy and cocaine. A Brownlow, a bender and a premiership, served on ice.

Young Ben was the one shining light at the Eagles in their least successful era, particularly under the brutal Ken Judge regime. Greats like Worsfold, Jakovich, McKenna and Kemp were in the twilight of their storied careers and the father-like Malthouse jumped, or was pushed; but missed all the same.

Ben was mixing underhanded teammates with underworld figures. The bright young star that we saw on the weekend consistently reached great heights on the field; he got higher off it. Rumors of his misadventures were whispered at first, but later screamed as he spiraled out of control.

In hindsight, his on-field performance was remarkable considering his off-field ‘regime’. His Brownlow Medal year (2005) was one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. Ben’s fitness was phenomenal; he could run harder for longer than anyone else, always to the right spots. He would run himself to the point where he’d end up on his haunches, vomiting…then running off again to do the same, to that same point. I’d feel physically ill watching him at first; eventually ‘Cuz spewing’ was as routine as a mark from Buddy or a goal from Gaz nowadays.

I remember feeling disappointed that Ben didn’t captain the Eagles to the 2006 premiership. ‘After all he’s done’, I thought, ‘he deserves to be holding that cup aloft’. Despite all we know now, my feelings haven’t changed. His impact on the Eagles over many years was grand; unfortunately so was his effect on them.

Ben was punished, internally and externally. He was fined and suspended and eventually banned. Yet he was rarely reviled, mostly revered. He was welcomed back to football, by the fans, with open arms; I’ll never forget his return to the field, both for the Eagles, then with the Tigers. Despite being smashed in the press, the public only had love for him. ‘He might be a dickhead, but he’s our dickhead’ was the sentiment.

But Ben had become a circus, all in his pursuit of The Chase. Ben went to rehab. Ben went AWOL in the US. Ben was rushed to hospital (more than once). We had ‘Ben at the airport’ (also more than once). We had the documentary. The book. Ben in Sydney. Ben in Melbourne. Ben arrested. Ben fleeing. Ben running. Ben swimming. Ben speeding. Ben shaving all of the hair off of his body.

We had Ben’s West Coast teammates like Gardiner, Chick, Fletcher, Kerr and countless others defending themselves in front of magistrates and subjected to paparazzi-style door-stops as they arrived at training, as they tried to leave their homes, or while trying to having a coffee on the streets of Perth as rumour and innuendo swirled about the after hours exploits of the Eagles.

And then came the shocking death of Chris Mainwaring.

Chris left behind his wife, Rani and two children, Maddy and Zac.

I believe it could have been Ben. It has, in fact, almost been Ben many times and unfortunately, for those obsessed with The Chase, what happened to Chris is how it inevitably ends.

The most heartbreaking story that I’ve heard about Ben was the night that Bryan went on The Chase with him. Storming out of their house and into his car, Bryan rode shotgun to Ben, who was on a mission. Bryan didn’t know where they were going, but he knew where they were going. Ben didn’t want his fathers company. He stopped the car.

Bryan was eventually given a lift home from the bus stop that he had curled up upon, after being left there by Ben. Ben couldn’t let Bryan in on The Chase. Ben (callously) left him behind.

Soon enough, Ben will leave us all behind. For good.

The Chase will be over.

 

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Comments

  1. Yvette Wroby says

    Thank you Rohan for this insightful piece, it is a sad story well told.
    Yvette

  2. Thank you Yvette, I hope I’m wrong.

  3. He’s not (and never was) the messiah. He’s just (and always was) a naughty boy.
    Move along. Nothing to see here.

  4. Another great piece from the 23. To me it’s just a matter of time. a case of when not if.

  5. Thank you for this beautiful article, so very well written. Drug is a monster and can affect anyone. We all are troubled enough to get hooked on it. It’s not just willpower; it’s a chemical as well as a mental addiction. It is hell. I feel for Ben as I feel for all the other victims of drugs: the ones who take it, their families that are powerless, the “collateral” victims who might be at the wrong place at the wrong time and can be hurt or killed by a junkie. Compassion, people, is an important feeling to have. For those who say Ben is “naughty” or shouldn’t have done drugs to start with, I’d like to say: if you have ever drunk irreasonably to the point of being massively hungover, or to the point of being sick or of being so high you no longer had control over your words or movements, then you have it in you too, the capacity to fall prey to drugs once and to never, ever be able to get out if it. Thank you again for your article.

  6. Dave Brown says

    Good one Twenty Three. Share your sense of sadness at this story. Footballers are trained to hear the siren’s song – some don’t seem to be able to find a way to resist.

  7. Great piece of writing Rohan.

    I can’t believe Ben’s still alive tbh. Sadly it would be some kind of miracle if he made it to 45.

  8. Great article. Ben Cousins like all of us is human. Fantastic footballer, but his human frailities seem to take the primary role in any discussions on him. In this age of a 24 hour news cycle, with all the advances in technology, he’s destined to never evade the spotlight. i think of some famous footballers of my youith including a premiership captain coach, a multiple brownlow medallist and a famed grand final captain, who all fell foul of the law for a myraid of reasons. For their human fralities, urban myths and chinese whispers resound about these champions, but they have still maintained a degree of anominity,. but in the 21st century advances in technology mean your misnomers won’t just be talked about , no they’ll be viewed on TV and on the computer screen. for the world to see. Sad tale this one.

    Glen!

  9. Anyone who sees footballers as role models is foolish. The way they are worshiped in our country is unhealthy and our expectations of them are unfair.
    Sure they can kick a leather ball better than most people but it stops there. They’re as flawed as any of us however they are painted by their employers.
    I hope Cousins gets his act together because the footy field is a long time passed now and those that need him most right now are his two young children and his partner. The rest of us are just fish bowling through the media.

  10. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    This is a terrific piece of writing 23.
    Ben Cousins is a 36 year old man. He has time….if he wants it. Some just don’t want to grow old and fade away. Maybe we need to respect that choice at some level.

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