Football clubs are made up of people. If you are ever involved in a footy club, you’ll come across these people. Some you won’t pay much mind to, others you naturally won’t have much interaction with, but others will strike you with their interest in how you are doing, just because you are a player or a coach at a footy club, their passion for the club, and their devotion to the club.
I’m lucky enough to be president of a local football club. The Elsternwick Amateur Football Club is the oldest district club playing in the Victorian Amateur Football Association, a league known for it’s legion of successful and well-resourced clubs associated with schools, such as Old Xaverians, Collegians and University Blacks and Blues. Down at the other end of the competition are the “Wickers”, playing on our small ground next door to league headquarters, signifying the relationship we have with the league itself and the bigger, richer clubs.
One of the reasons why Elsternwick has survived more than 100 years is people like Col Page. Never will one meet a person more passionate about a football club than Col. He spent his entire life supporting Elsternwick, doing a wide number of jobs from timekeeping to club historian to even cleaning the dog droppings from the ground before a Saturday home match.
Col’s life long love affair with the Elsternwick Amateur Football Club began at a young age. His father, George, was coach of the 1951 Premiership side, which included a 16 year old Don Williams. Williams would later go on to win multiple premierships at Melbourne and be named in their Team of the Century. He’s also in Elsternwick’s. Col remained the unofficial mascot of that 1951 side, and would join the remaining members at the Past Player’s lunch every year.
Unfortunately for Col, a knee injury at 16 robbed him of the opportunity to play for his beloved Wickers. So he devoted his energy and passion to helping Elsternwick however he could.
Col’s great mate was Graham Holmes, who after a distinguished playing career for Elsternwick became President for 16 years in the 1970s and 1980s. On a Thursday night for training, Col would leave his East Malvern home, pick up “Holmesy” from his house in Carnegie, and come down to the ground to watch the boys run around, regardless of the weather. Then, after watching training, they would come into the club rooms, where the order would be “a heavy and a light”. One wonders whether Elsternwick would have stocked light beer if it hadn’t been for Col.
Graham died of cancer two years ago, and Elsternwick now refers to their home ground as the Graham Holmes Oval. A sign sits on the outer wing where Holmesy would often stand, watching the game, usually by himself. Col would be on the other wing as interchange steward, keeping track of the goalkickers and also who won the fifth at Caulfield.
Col would, the day after an Elsternwick match, provide his match report to the local paper. Such was the reliability of this Sunday morning missive that one morning a couple of years ago when the report was five minutes in arriving, the local scribe rang Col to see if he was OK. His car broke down one Thursday before training; he made sure to call the club to ensure we knew his absence was benign.
Unfortunately, Col passed away last Friday. Only the previous Saturday, as Elsternwick ventured out to Beaconsfield to play St Francis Xavier Old Collegians, Col was present as ever, keeping the time, the goalkickers, and watching his beloved Wickers. His sudden death leaves a hole in the club that all who are left will struggle to fill.
The Elsternwick Amateur Football Club has been around longer than some nations, seen two World Wars and countless players come through the club. The reason it has lasted so long is people like Col Page. In this day and age when it is becoming increasingly difficult to get young men to commit time, energy and passion to something as trivial as a football club, Col’s life of service and devotion are a shining example of a life well lived.
It was often said that Col was the greatest never to play a game for Elsternwick. Having struggled through 80-odd games of ordinary reserves football, I feel know that I would happily trade all those games in just to let know Col what is was like to pull on the famous black jumper with the red sash. But Col made a greater contribution than many of us can ever hope to make. Not just through his work for the club, but by just chatting to the players about the history of the club, the club he loved more than anything else.
Football is a community game, not just because it occurs locally, but because it takes a community to run a football club. And without people like Col Page and Graham Holmes, those communities would not exist.
In a moment of sad reflection, I can see Col and Holmesy now, in the bar, talking about football or the races. And after all this time, the round is still the same: a heavy and a light. Rest in peace Col.