I think everyone everywhere knows that Ben Cousins retired today.
Ben Cousins is about the only bloke in Australia that could hijack this miserable election campaign. If he retired on Saturday it would be front page news on Sunday — even if Tony Abbott won and did his victory speech in a dress. In at least the AFL supporting states Ben Cousins would still be front page news. That is Ben Cousins’ lot.
And I am going to add to the many eulogies to his career — but perhaps from a different perspective. That of a Fremantle supporter.
I hated Ben Cousins.
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I hated Ben Cousins, not because he was a drug taking party boy. Like any Sandgroper growing up in Perth at the time (I am two years Cousins’ junior), and despite telling my mates differently, I probably secretly wished that I was getting the red carpet treatment at any of the many crappy Perth nightspots that Cousins was ushered into, nightclub owners waiting, girls swarming.
I hated Ben Cousins, not because he could do no wrong (in both the media and public’s eyes). When Cousins infamously abandoned his car on the Canning Highway to avoid a booze bus, he swam across the river, shirtless. He entered a restaurant that was closing down for the night and asked to use the phone. Someone, recognising him, asked if he was Ben Cousins. “No, I’m his twin brother,” was his reputed reply. Of course he was Ben Cousins! That takes balls! The man was a demigod in Perth in the late 1990s and early 2000s. And a shirtless, panting, river soaked, law evading Ben Cousins didn’t blink. Everyone knew who he was. Half of Perth’s female population had a photo of him on their wall. Hell, half the men had one too. The man was a rock star. And the people loved him.
I hated Ben Cousins, not because he hung out with bikies. I tried to hang out with bikies once. It was in the Railway Hotel in Fremantle I think. There were strippers and I was having a beer. There were a lot of bikies. I was scared. I left. Ben Cousins wouldn’t have left.
I hated Ben Cousins because he was an Eagle. Pure and simple. He was also one the best footballers I have ever seen.
I remember Ben Cousins first game against Geelong in 1996. I watched the game with my Dad, an Eagles supporter. I think it was against Geelong. As the match unfolded, this kid, wearing number 35 (not the number 9 he made famous), gave his all. In an ageing team of champions he didn’t look out of place. He threw himself around and looked classy and composed whenever he had the ball.
I’ll never forget. I said to my Dad, “he’ll win a Brownlow one day.” If my Dad was a gambling man (which he isn’t) he should have gone and found a bookie and put $10 on it. It would have paid for his retirement.
So it’s funny when you watch the footage of his first game. A kid, he goes on to be arguably the greatest player to play for the Eagles, a Brownlow Medallist, a premiership hero and arguably the most controversial player in the history of the game:
Who would have known?
But I hated him.
He was a brilliant midfielder. His gut running incomparable. He single-handedly won countless games for the Eagles, many against Fremantle. Eagles fans adored him. He was truly the golden child of the West.
So I could excuse the man for the drug taking, the stupid “Such is Life” tattoo and the fact his best mates were Michael Gardiner and Perth “identity” John Kizon. I could excuse him of his Malibu overdose and his daytime public arrest in Northbridge. I could excuse him of almost anything because his footballing talent was simply exceptional.
But I can’t excuse him because he, after all, was an Eagle.
I suppose it hurts the most because he played for East Fremantle as a junior. He should have played in purple. Alas, he never did. And it may have made all the difference.