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Like a lot of kids, I grew up on football with my Father. He taught me the rules, took me to my first games, taught me to hate Manly, the works.
So naturally, he regaled me with tales of games long ago, of men who?s boots had been hung up long before I was even a part of this world. Oh and believe me, living in Kograh as a boy and being a third generation Saints supporter who rarely missed a home game with his mates, he had a lot to tell.
As a younger boy my reactions were awe and wonder over these demi gods my father must have seen run around the paddock who made todays players seem reserve grade at best. I felt a sense of disappointment I never got to see Langlands take a catch, Reg Gasnier bust the line or witness Craig Smith connect with a prop at full pace. Of course, as I got older and wiser I realised that many of these tales and recounts had suffered at the exaggerations of an old man and that the players I watch here and now aren?t as inferior as he?d have me think? Awe turned to argument, and whilst at obvious disadvantage having never seen my father?s generation play where he has mine, I felt compelled to insist that my heroes are just as skilled and tough as those of forty years ago.
?Tough? That glass man Barrett? Saints will never win a premiership with him around. Now Billy Smith was a real half? as hard as they come. A real prankster too??
?Never win a premiership? Have you seen our win loss ration with and without him? He?s key to our team! I know he?s had back luck with injuries but he?s far from a pansy.?
Of course being two generations of alpha males we were just picking sides for the sake of arguing. I wasn?t born until 1986, and he barely followed the modern game as I do. But it mattered little.
?Hornby? Who? How often does he treat Kogarah to a tryline to tryline run like Langlands used to? Nobody will think anything of him when he?s gone.?
?He might not be made an immortal but he IS our rock at the moment. A player doesn?t need to be flashy to be great??
After years of this, it was a trip to the footy which gave me perspective in a way nothing else could.
Round 25 2004, Tingah?s farewell game and the day of an amazing comeback against Manly at Kogarah Oval. I?d been finding my own way to games recently and this was the first I?d attended with Dad in well over a year. After the amazing result we went to the leagues club for a few beers together, where we found none other than Billy Smith.
Dad had a copy of his book that he asked Billy to sign, which he did and ended up sharng some memories with my father. When Billy left I looked at Dad and saw that he had tears welling up in his eyes. At that moment I realised that the short old man he had been speaking to moments before was a giant to him. I realised that my Dad probably couldn?t recall many individual details about games from his childhood to use in arguments. I realised that none of that mattered at all because memories are what made these men as great as they were in all the stories I?ve been told. The impact they had on thousands of people just like my father, the number of men they were the childhood heroes of.
I?d never really understood the term ?immortal? until that day.
Nowadays when I?m awestruck by the Brilliant vision of Barrett or the mesmerizing footwork of Gasnier, I flash back to what it must?ve been like for my dad sitting on the hill at Kograh in the exact same state of mind as me. A kid watching his idols.
Then, sometimes, I flash forward and see me telling the same overblown tales to my kids. I?ll leave out the bad games and the injuries, of course.
?Did you see that flick pass? Well come on Dad, you?ve got to admit he?s something special.?
??it was good.? He conceded. ?But do you know what the difference between Mark and his Uncle is?? ?what?? ?Mark got caught by those three blokes. Reg would?ve gone right through them.?
We both smiled.
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