Every team needs their own ‘Wheels’

“Don’t it always seem to go,

that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone” – Joni Mitchell


Our ground bore witness to a lot of great players over the years. Sadly for us they were mostly from visiting teams, but there was always one of our own that I think about more than any other. Not so much for his footballing prowess as for what he brought to the club culture in the short time that he was there.

He was known simply as “Wheels”. Some say it was a mere bastardization of his name but for those of us that knew him, we liked to think it was as much a reference to his inconsistent cognitive abilities, more comparatively like the ones you find on trolleys at Coles, for he was equally unpredictable and hard to control at times.

We discovered him training at our then home ground at Jindalee off to the side, putting himself through his own paces equipped with a ball swollen almost circular with the seasons and a pair of witches hats he’d most likely souvenired on his way to the ground. Oblivious to onlookers he put himself through a series of turning and sprinting themed drills before concluding each with a brief analysis of results before leaping into a spirited description of the drill to follow.

It was junior night at the Jags but Sparksy, one of our club stalwarts, was on hand to extend an open invitation for Wheels to come back the following night to train with the Masters team. His eyes danced at the possibility of being drawn back into the fray once more and it would prove to be a decision that would entertain on more levels than any of us could have imagined.

I’ll never forget his debut for the club. Transcending nervous and excited, Wheels sent the very clear message of wanting to play by leaping into a warm up routine of toe touches, burpees and star jumps all directly in front of the coach and all obscuring his view of the ground in front of him. It worked, “OK Wheels, when Scooter comes off, you’re on!”

First interchange Scooter enquired cautiously of the coach – “Hey Rocket, who went on in my place?” “Wheels mate!”came the abrupt reply of a man busy shuffling names on the magnetic board. A brief silence followed. “Ummm…no he didn’t coach” replied a sheepish bench. Somewhere in the 2 minutes between the initial directive and the first interchange, the club bistro had caught the eye of Wheels who was already seated at the bar with a coke and heavily sauced pie. The whole club erupted into a mixed chorus of laughter and the impassioned cries of “You’re on Wheels!” His boots tap-danced their way through the lounge and down the player’s race, pushing the whole pie in, leaving a thick trail of pastry crumbs behind him, and showering the bench with carbonated sweetness en route to a memorable debut.

I remember with fond recall the time he searched feverishly amongst the player ranks pre-game trying to locate the captain, the only person he would commit to speaking to one morning. “Are you Kanga?” he asked, almost agitated, upon finding him. “Yes mate. I was on Tuesday night when you asked me at training and I still am today” offered Kanga. “Well, as the captain, I think you’ll want to see this.” whereupon he proceeded to produce a shiny cone shaped shell from under the fold of his sock. “I found it” whispered Wheels looking around nervously before tucking it back gently into its original hiding place and trotting off a much more relieved man. Where had it come from? What vital importance had he placed upon the shell that we failed to appreciate as a collective? We never did find out.

Nobody listened harder to the coach during the scheduled interludes than Wheels did but as his confidence around the club grew he would sometimes take it upon himself to punctuate the coach’s spirited addresses with useful tips like “Don’t sit down boys, the lactic acid will go straight to your ass!”

His build did not loan itself to greatness. It’s safe to say that he was no Statue of David (unless there happens to be one of David Boon doing the rounds that I am presently unaware of), indeed had the much admired David shared a physique similar to that of Wheels, it’s a fair bet that Michelangelo will have insisted on charging by the hour. He was 40kg shy of being considered chubby (on the wrong side if it needed pointing out) and could sweat like no other man alive (it was like shaking hands with Poseidon himself). Still, all this and an abundant lack of stamina considered he could move and (as we were to discover almost by accident), he could play.

We had tried him on various flanks, wings and pockets with no real success and as our weekend game with Wilston Grange loomed large it was pointed out that our stock of key defenders had been decimated through injury, work commitments and incarceration.

His foot skills were good, he was deceptively quick, had great closing speed and was nigh on impossible to beat in a one on one contest for strength. “We’ll try him at Full Back for a quarter” mused the coach, more out of hope than anything else.

None of us had forgotten that Wilston Grange’s Full Forward “Beefy” had kicked 7 goals on us in a half of football in our previous encounter before wandering off to the bar early, safe in the knowledge his team would win. Lo and behold Beefy would take leave of us early again on this day but this time, not on the back of a stellar performance. Coach Rocket kept the instructions concise, and no player focused harder on doing his job to the letter than Wheels did. He would position himself 10 metres directly in front of Beefy, with his back to the play and stare directly into his eyes with a fixed grin that he took with him to every marking contest and subsequent spoil.

Not only did Beefy fail to have the same impact (kicking only one from a dubious free) but he refused point blank to even play after half time citing psychological torment. I sometimes wonder how many of the ensuing nights’ sleeps were rudely interrupted by that grinning visage, waking him in a cold sweat that probably wasn’t his own. If not for the very real threat of lower back strain, we would have carried “Wheelsy” off shoulder high that day. A defensive star was born.

Though, in the physical sense, a literally much bigger challenge was waiting for him up the highway for our next game. The Sunshine Coast had only been beaten twice in 4 years – and not by us, I can assure you! Their Full Forward was more Hulk than man, with only a marginally less impressive complexion to tell them apart. His appetite to inflict physical pain on opposition players was fast becoming legend and stories of his brutishness filled the bus on the ride north. Yet each story, more terrifying than the last, only seemed to excite Wheels more at the prospect of grinning upwardly at his next opponent.

We found ourselves several goals down in the opening minutes of the game, as was customary in our contests against the more talented Coast side. But at the 16 minute mark of the first quarter the physical worlds of Wheels and his monolithic opponent would intersect swiftly and ferociously.Whole galaxies have been created from collisions less violent than this one.

Allow me to set the scene. The Sunny Coast Hulk, still looking to have an impact early, offered a perfect lead up to centre half forward that was dishonoured by a misdirected kick. The ball continued to tumble helplessly into unclaimed space forcing their full forward to change course and navigate full steam ahead towards Wheels who had since locked on to the loose football.

Like rogue ocean liners, both men ploughed onward toward each other until arriving at the inevitable impact, delivering a fearful bump that reverberated around the ground and frightened birds from neighbouring trees. Their forward peeled himself from the turf and offered a defiant grin but his eyes betrayed him, telling a different tale, one of genuine pain and the likelihood of some internal trauma. Suffice to say his impact over the remainder of the game was reduced markedly and would offer little in the way of his usual menace over the remaining contest. Our standard 120 point thumping was curtailed to a more respectable 4 or 5 goal defeat that, in some ways, felt like victory to us. Wheels on the other hand, not only appeared to carry no obvious discomfort from the hit, maintaining his feet throughout, but was spritely enough post-game to be among the first vying to get back on the bus, more concerned with looking to hi-jack the bus’s microphone and lead the team into a chorus of golden oldies he couldn’t remember any of the words to. Did he not feel pain nor understand it, or was he simply happy to treat it with the same level of contempt he had for the myths and legends surrounding his much larger opponent on the day?

For me, it’s the little things I think I missed the most, like his shouting of random numbers at training during warm-up exercises, never in any discernable order. His vigorous bellows of “1, 2, 4, 7,12…” after each repetition was never in itself overly distracting and if nothing else, it helped with the process of picking my Powerball numbers for the week. I always had this vision of him landing his dream job, standing in the Keno Lounge at Jupiter’s Casino in a tuxedo shouting out whichever numbers came to mind.

Or the joyful helpfulness he carried into the post-game showers where he was only too happy to announce “You missed a spot” and pointing out any areas you may have neglected to soap. Again, not considered an area of huge concern around the club per se, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered the implications of hearing those same four words echoing around my own bathroom through the darkness of a slightly ajar window.

He insisted on leading the club in victory song post-game and nobody sang it louder or sometimes nuder given there were times when the hardest working towel in the room would be forced to surrender under duress from the exuberant gyrations that accompanied his renditions.

Awards nights are great but let’s face it, some players are so gifted and good at what they do that a trophy is a mere formality, warmly received no doubt but soon relocated to a darkened shed or dusty shelf to live out a life of relative obscurity. Not Wheels’ trophy though. The night he won his Most Improved award I doubt a trophy has ever been more cherished. His acceptance speech was one of rare coherence for the man, but one delivered with the best urban eloquence that brought a tear to the eye of many that night. I sometimes reflect on what an amazing life that trophy was destined for. I have visions of him dressing it for dinner and pushing it gently on the swings at the park on weekends. He shared the stage that night with some seasoned footballers whose awards would make for useful back scratchers and door stops, but Wheels just beamed lovingly at his like a proud new parent would their son or daughter.

Sadly for our club, it was not long after this night that he found love and walked away from the game for good. There have been a few alleged sightings in the years since but nothing conclusive. I like to imagine that he spends his down time combing random sporting fields in search of the perfect sea shell and cruising the streets of his suburb with a Most Improved trophy taped permanently to the bonnet of his car.

The older boys share stories about him now with the younger players who look on opened mouthed and shake their heads in disbelief. There were those that didn’t understand him, indeed some that flat out avoided him at the time but there isn’t a man around the club now that doesn’t look off to the side on training nights hoping to catch sight of a couple of oddly placed witches hats that would herald a second coming of some much needed eccentricity to be injected into the club culture. He made it fun and, when it comes down to it, isn’t that why we started playing in the first place?

About Jamie Simmons

Born in Melbourne, a third generation Fitzroy supporter, in 1972 before emigrating to Tasmania during The Great Broccoli Famine of 86. Leaving my island lodgings, largely at the request of locals, to settle once more on the mainland in 1997. These days living out a peaceful existance on the outskirts of Brisbane, where I spend most of my time serving as a fashion warning to others.


  1. Jamie- very funny. A great yarn about those fringe-dwellers who happen upon most clubs. Loved the lactic acid line. Thanks.

  2. …… And cruising the streets of his suburb with a Most Improved trophy taped permanently to the bonnet of his car. If I see him I’ll say g’day for you Jamie.

  3. Cat from the Country says

    Jamie a delightful insight into characters who shape our great game.
    I love these human interest stories as they tell us so much about our fellow man.
    And you do not need to be a Footy fan to enjoy the story.
    Thanks for sharing.

  4. Don Meadows says

    I laughed like a drain.
    And I thought it was going to be about Peter Bedford …

  5. Really really good, great story, thanks for sharing it


  6. Jamie, that is going straight into Footy Town 2. What a character, our Wheels. Simply brilliant yarn on many levels. Heaps of wonderfully original lines. I think the birds leaving the trees is one of the best. Thanks.

  7. So funny, but yet so real!!

  8. It seems to have sense of humour with art of footy, but sorry I was unable to understand yet. I will take time later and read times and hope I will understand. But it’s interesting to read!

  9. Malcolm Rulebook Ashwood says

    Fantastic Jamie and thank you for taking the Knackery along for the ride

  10. Marvellous Igor! Wheels certainly was “special”.

  11. Jamie – love it.

  12. Great work Igor. Of your usual standard.

  13. Very good and without mention of Collingwood made more memorable

  14. Mark Duffett says

    “1, 2, 4, 7,12…” does truly seem randon. If he’d been shouting “1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 13…” I could at least have understood it as priming himself for the contest.

  15. Brilliant!

  16. The story of the journey north for the game against Sunshine Coast sounds similar to Queensland and Australian rugby union player Paul Carozza (about 5’5″ and weighed 73kg), who was asked to play in David Campese’s tribute game at the last minute. He arrived in the dressing room about 10 minutes before game time and walked in to a chorus of laughter, pointing and the general look given to someone who was about to be thrown to the lions. Carozza was . Even the grizzled prop forwards seemed to be proffering an element of sympathy, if not empathy.

    Turned out he was marking Jonah Lomu. (6’4″, 120kg, sub 11 seconds for the 100m)

    Postscript. Jonah didn’t manage to get past the diminutive Carozza who whenever the ball looked like heading towards Lomu, raced up and wrapped his arms around at least one of the great man’s thighs as soon as he received the ball, clamped on like a limpet and waited til help arrived.

  17. Laurie Laffan says

    Great read Jamie from a first generation Fitzroy supporter . I remember barracking for the Gorillas at Brunswick St.

  18. Hey mate, having known and played masters afl with wheels you are exactly right, great read,

  19. Well recalled buddy! Great memories… I still have this vivid memory of you sitting on the seats in the change room after a game and removing your boots… whilst a fully nude Wheels stood talking to you… about 15cm from your face. Do you still get the nightmares or did the counselling sessions fix that?

    My own nightmare… with a nic name of ‘Princess’… if that is not bad enough! Wheels had some difficulty committing it to memory. I must admit to some relief when he was finally moved to the back-line so I never had to kick to him. It was a bit disconcerting when your running down field looking to kick long and all you can see is Wheels leading and screaming “Fairy… Fairy…I’m clear!

  20. Well written yet again Igor.
    I too have fond memories of playing with Wheels
    Especially when he would yell enthusiastically from the sidelines as a player was about to pick up and run with a loose ball “you have five, you have five on him”
    even though the opposition player was bearing down to lay a bruising tackle within a half a metre…..I’m not sure Rocket’s ribs ever recovered!!!!

Leave a Comment