Graeme Meredith was touring around Australia in a Winnebago when he decided to stop at Brisbane to visit his sisters. He hasn’t moved in the twelve years since.
The 87-year-old former Essendon Property Steward, got involved at the Maroochydore footy club through ex-Bomber Peter Sumerville, who was coaching the Roos at the time.
“Naturally enough I came around to say hello to Peter,” said Meredith.
“He said what about giving me a hand, I said yeah OK.
“I said I’ve got two sisters here, I’m retired and I’m single and I’ve got no problems.”
In September the sun rises at around 5.30am, the same time Graeme gets up for away games in order to load up the car and get everything set up for the colts, seconds and senior matches to come.
Meredith doesn’t worry about the early starts too much and doesn’t need an alarm clock, because he knows every Saturday morning Ritchie will arrive at his house half an hour early to help out.
“He’s an alarm clock,” said Meredith.
“If I tell him we’re leaving at seven o’clock he’s at my place at half past six.”
Graeme found Ritchie through a neighborhood meeting, in which Ritchie’s mum mentioned that she was hoping to find something for her son to do. Shortly after, Graeme organized to bring Ritchie, who has an intellectual disability, along to the club and set him up as his 2IC, something that’s had a positive impact on the young man’s life.
Ritchie reminded Graeme of another young man he was associated with at Essendon, who’d been nicknamed the Phantom. If the Bombers lost, the ‘Phantom’ would talk about what they should do in order to improve for the next week. These sessions were known as ‘according to the Phantom’ and ran for a number of years.
Ritchie started at Maroochydore eight years ago and is now a valuable member of the team, well known and appreciated by everyone around the club.
“He sits down on the bench and when it’s on and keeps the water bottles full and all that sort of stuff,” said Meredith.
“(He) runs around and is chief back slapper.”
The Maroochydore senior side won the premiership this year in QFA Division 1, for the first time while Graeme has been associated with the club. Watching on from the sidelines he rode every bump and grit his teeth with every tackle, as his Roos took control in the second quarter and held on to win.
“Our second quarter was one of the best quarters of football that I’ve ever seen,” said Meredith.
“The absolute control that our players had over the football and over the players from Noosa, it was just unreal.”
If hard work has its rewards, Graeme has certainly put in enough of the former over the last decade, taking care of the Maroochydore Football Club’s every need on game day, every weekend no matter the weather. Then there’s washing the jumpers, which he does on Saturday nights, sometimes till past midnight in order to keep his Sundays free.
All of a sudden September has been and gone and Meredith is left with the strange feeling that comes along with empty weekends. Ritchie is in the same frame of mind.
“He’s (Ritchie) like me at the moment he doesn’t know what to do with himself because he’s got no football,” said Meredith.
Like many volunteers, they do it because they love their footy and that’s the only reward they want.
“You know, it’s just the atmosphere of the football I enjoy,” said Meredith.
“Comradeship and all this sort of stuff.”
By Sean Melrose