Chapter 1 Ben
Ben the two of us need look no more,
We both found what we were looking for,
With a friend to call my own, I'll never be alone,
And you my friend will see, you have a friend in me- Michael Jackson
On the evening of June 21, 1992, I was asleep in the Alexander household in South Penrith in Sydney's west when my old Panthers' team-mate Constable Craig Izzard knocked on the door. It was 10.30pm and Craig was on official police duty.... on a job that he hadn't volunteered for ...one that no-one would have volunteered for. He was there to tell the family that Ben Alexander had been killed in a car smash.
A piercing scream woke me from a deep sleep. I sat bolt upright in bed and as soon as I opened my eyes I had a deep and frightening sense that something was wrong, terribly wrong. Moments later the tormented faces and tears of the Alexander family members confirmed my worst fears. I learned that Ben was dead.
I was shattered. I just didn't know what to do. I felt like punching the wall and screaming. What the fuck do you do? It was devastating, just devastating, and to this day the image that lives in my mind of 'Boods' lifeless in his car is something I can't get out of my mind. It's a nightmare that won't go away. There are times I fear the thought of Ben being dead will drive me completely around the bend.
Ben's death comes back to haunt me at different times.
When I was driving the 100 kilometre round trip from home to Leichhardt Oval I had plenty of time to think, and more often than not Boods would be on my mind. The thought of his death would hit me and I'd feel the tears welling up. Then I'd notice the speedometer was suddenly reading up around 160 kilometres an hour, and I would force myself to slow down.
Other times ...like when I'm out drinking with mates. I hear a song on a jukebox and I think of Ben's laughter, and I'm in tears. My grief just won't go away, and the tragedy of that night has had a huge impact on my personality.
All I wish is I could turn back time to that hazy evening at the Penrith Leagues Club and stop Ben from driving off to Temptations nightclub at Mount Druitt. If only I'd convinced him to stay with me and the boys. If only ...they are two of the worst words in the English language.
People comfort you and say that it takes time to heal this kind of a wound. But how much time? Who decides when the mourning stops? I know that even two years after his funeral I still haven't found the acceptance people talk about. I just can't believe that full-of-beans Boods isn't around any more.
What makes it even harder is the fact that I know Ben didn't die a happy young bloke. His last few weeks at Penrith were hell. Whenever the first grade team was posted on the board Boods was left out of the lineup - even though it was generally accepted that Ben deserved a top grade berth.
The treatment dished out to Ben eventually divided the club into two different camps, and for a time feelings ran at fever pitch. It got so bad that it came down to either having an allegiance to club management or Boods - and mine was to my future brother-in-law.
My mob - dubbed 'The Family' - by the other camp, were bonded by a firm belief that Boods was being victimised. The view of the other group was that was getting his just desserts for a bloke who enjoyed partying as much as playing football. I maintain that should really never have been an issue because Boods was a full-on, hundred per cent, totally dedicated footballer - worthy of first grade selection .
'We wouldn't have let him drive - but he said he was okay and he really seemed it,'Liddiard told the Telegraph Mirror.
I feel even sadder that the booze was a contributing element in Ben's death. It adds even more to the feeling of futility about a wasted young life. In response to the Coroner releasing the blood reading and the fact that his brother wasn't wearing a seat belt Brandy delivered an emotional public appeal. It was painfully difficult for him, because the newshounds only wanted to hear the worst.
I'll repeat his words here for any young bloke or girl who thinks it's cool to drink and drive. My advice is read them thoroughly - because they could save your life.
(Ben was only 20 when he died. He was only a kid and had so much to live for. It was a few silly actions that cut his life short. His death has meant a lot of pain and suffering for our family and many others. I believe there is a lesson to be learned in the aftermath to this tragedy. When you get behind the wheel think very carefully about your actions. Under no circumstances at- tempt to drive a vehicle after drinking and belt up before driving anywhere. He had a few drinks after a great win and a combination of those factors took his life. I learned my lesson about drink- driving four years ago and I got off easy. Ben learned the hard way.'
The ambulance reached the accident scene in four minutes flat that fateful night, but even that was too late for my little buddy. The news was just as lightning quick to circulate around the district. I'm told that when word reached the Panthers Leagues Club at lO.35pm people began crying openly. As a mark of respect the club shut early.
The next day people from around the district flocked to the deadly intersection to lay bunches of flowers at the spot, and to pin messages to the telegraph pole that had killed Ben. Kids on bicycles, old age pensioners and local park footballers made a shrine of the pole. It was very, very sad. One person who made a special journey west to pay homage was Manly President's Cup player Warwick Jackson
A close friend of the Alexander family, Carl Leddy, penned a poem which was included in the service. Even today I sometimes remember it when the thoughts of having lost Ben get too much. My only wish is that I had written it.
After victory, a defeat
After joy, despair
And after love, a pain
And now a drill that sweeps across the heart,
A raging wind that tears at flimsy covers and snaps
The stays of reason wide apart.
Not fair, not fair,
This is a time for questioning
Why, and why, and why
A concentration, puzzling;
Understanding that eludes us
Time and time again as
The answer to the puzzle slips away
It's too hard, but the search goes on
For we know there's hope in view,
Behind the black and stormy clouds
Perhaps now, just a narrow opening of truth
And we must all pass through those doors
Together and forever, Friends, relatives and mates
Whose lives were improved from knowing Ben.
During my grade career I have used my shoulders to bowl over some real monsters. They've been bruised and busted and aching at times, but they've never let me down. On that day as I carried Ben's tiny casket to the hearse alongside Brandy, Peter Alexander, Freddie Fittler, Glen Liddiard and Luke Campbell they felt like jelly. The casket weighed a tonne -but it was despair, not Ben's weight that was dragging me down.
Ben was buried not long after we placed his coffin in the hearse. A bit of all of us was buried with him. For me the burial did not bring peace and it didn't bring acceptance.
Rather, it sparked a sense of rage ...and through my anger and my tears there was one person towards whom I channelled all the bitterness ...our coach Phil Gould.
In the weeks and months ahead I relived again and again the horrible moment of Ben's death. When I was a kid growing up in the mean streets of Sydney's western suburbs I never had a clue that life could be this hard ...