Pain and Passion
Written by Mark Geyer. First appeared in League Week 19 June 2002
As modern day players and ex-players hear of the extraordinary courage and toughness of players of yester year, notably John Sattler’s amazing effort in completing a game with a broken jaw, last weekend’s Panthers and Bulldogs clash saw Mark O’Meley’s unbelievably high tolerance to pain, when sustaining a broken jaw, without the slightest flinch or flicker of any apparent injury. Seeing this brought back images and memories of other players in the modern era pushing themselves way beyond the call of duty and admirably, way beyond the pain threshold.
With that here are a few incidents in which pain certainly didn’t enter the equation.
A story that both shocks and dismays when told at after dinner functions is when in 1989 Chris "Louie" Mortimer, after breaking his thumb in a competition game 4 weeks before the semis decided in was time to become club doctor. It was the week before an extremely important semi-final clash against the Tigers and Ron Willey had picked rookie, Brad Fittler to play in his maiden semi campaign. Ron’s selection was based on "Louie" not getting a doctor’s clearance to play, therefore ruling him ineligible for selection. We all turned up to training on Tuesday before the game with "Louie’s" hand still in a half-cast with a steel pin protruding about an inch out of his thumb. The next sequence of events would make even Mike Tyson wince. So please, leave the room if you’ve just eaten or have a stomach made of marshmallow.
"F… this" said "Louie"
"What do you mean" we all said at once.
"I don’t need a f….. doctor to tell me my thumbs alright, I’ll take the f….. thing out myself".
Blokes like me, Brandy, Freddy, Boods and Scarter were all giddy with excitement. We couldn’t believe what we were about to see. Nor did we ever imagine he would really do it. So off he went to his tool kit ("Louie" was a carpenter……lucky hey!…….) pulled out a dirty big pair of pliers and proceeded to pull the steel pin out of his broken thumb.
The giddy, excited atmosphere turned to one of "What the………?" We couldn’t believe that he’d just pulled out a steel pin from his thumb without fainting or indeed not even blinking. Truly amazing sight in looking back.
As far as tough footballers go C Mortimer holds top billing as far as I’m concerned. The club doctor at the time, Norm Southern, still shakes his head whenever this story is brought up. As for the game, yes "Louie" did play and the Tigers knocked us out of the grand final race, but every bloke in that room that day would never complain about a niggling injury again.
Another player who I rate right up there with the toughest I’ve played both with and against is Tony Butterfield. "Butts" was the type of player who was a born captain and leader and in our march to the Under 23’s grand-final in 1986 he showed just what it meant to play with pain.
"Butts" as a kid and late teen suffered from a type of blood disorder that produced savage boils to appear on his body. If anyone has ever had a boil you would know just how painful and uncomfortable they can be. It was nothing for "Butts" to have 5 even 6 at a time on both his back and his legs and all the size of golf balls. Seeing him get them lanced before matches was enough to make a grown man cry but again, like "Louie", not even the slightest blinking of an eye lid. From this you knew that the man leading you into battle was not going to let a little thing like "pain" get in the way of a victory.
Even in later years in both 1989 and 1990, "Butts" was rarely spotted on the training paddock, a sight not unnoticed by his teammates. You see, while they thought "Butts" was having a bludge and not running, it was later revealed in a scan ,that he had played the previous 2 seasons with a fracture in each of his shins. Fast forward to 1998 and "Butts" plays the whole season with fractures in both his thumb and wrist. Purely amazing feats to the mere mortal but for Anthony Butterfield, this was his job.
One player, not as high profile as "Louie" and "Butts", but still played on with a major injury was boom schoolboy player Wayne Evans. In 1995 while playing with the Western Reds in only his second first grade appearance "Evo" broke his collarbone in the opening tackle of the game. Having worked so hard through both schoolboys and reserve grade to grab his spot in the big time a "little" thing such as a broken collarbone wasn’t going to get in the way of keeping the dream alive.
It became quite evident that while blocking the pain right out of his body he wasn’t quite as lucky in blocking out opponents from running through him like a turnstile. Fifteen minutes before full time he finally succumbed to the nasty injury that would keep him out of footy for the next 2 months.
While these are only a few eyewitness accounts the list of the modern day footballers heroics seems never ending.
· Ricky Stuart and Ian Roberts playing on with badly ruptured groins for the early part of the 1990’s.
· Geoff Toovey starting his career as a choir boy and ending it looking like a professional boxer after sustaining hundreds of stitches to numerous facial wounds.
· Big "Blocker" Roach playing on with a dislocated elbow – one of the most painful injuries in footy – on the Tour of 1986.
· Ben Kennedy playing with a dislocated shoulder and broken hand on last years Kangaroo Tour.
· "Brandy" played the season of 1997 with 2 broken feet and still forced his way into origin footy at the ripe old age of 33.
· Brad Drew continuing after breaking his jaw last year
The list could go on forever of footballers playing way beyond the realms of reality.
I can’t remember a game that I played in with ex teammate and coach, Royce Simmons, that he didn’t require some sort of pain killing injection to one part of his body or another. Chronic groin and shoulder injuries saw Simmo play with pain (not me) for most of his career. Even my little brother Matt played the 1999 grand final with a broken fingernail (Ha Ha Ha Ha – He’ll kill me for that one).
Actually, Boofa did play with a dislodged AC Joint last year and still managed a couple of try saving hits.
So as you can see courage comes in many shapes and sizes and you don’t have to be the biggest, strongest or even the toughest footballer to carry on after injury cuts you down.
But the one thing you must have plenty of is raw boned determination, along with a mind set that I’d rather my arm, leg or knee to fall off rather than let myself, but even more importantly, my team mates down.