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By Sunrise reporter Simon Reeve
As I’ve been reminded umpteen times by my parents over the years, I was in a high chair when the family started going to the Roma restaurant, a stone’s throw from the Roundhouse at the end of High St in Fremantle.
Frank and Nella Abrugiato served lip smacking roast chicken and spaghetti that drew wharfies, businessmen, footballers and a noisy, bohemian mix of the port’s many characters.
One of the waitresses was the ever smiling Mrs Tomka. Her son Franz played for South Fremantle, which in my eight-year-old eyes made her royalty in 1969.
Long before the America’s Cup came to its shores, Fremantle was very different to the rest of Perth.
“I was a schmucko assistant producer,
he was a true football legend.”
The white and red v of my beloved South Fremantle reflected the diverse mix of the community. A Ciccotosto here, a Civich there, a smattering of Griljusich’s and a Glucina (ask Dennis Commetti about the legendary Ivan!).
Saturday during football season could never come quickly enough for me. There was the green and gold jumper of Melville to pull on early Saturday morning, match day chatter on the radio at home and then off to our permanent spot with two of my uncles at Fremantle Oval for the Bulldogs home games.
There was also Big Tezz in our vocal bunch, a tremendous character, who sported the most fantastic rug. At half time, a walk up South Terrace for a slice of Italian cheesecake and a cappuccino was integral to our ritual.
Strangely, fate had it that my parents were loyal East Fremantle followers, our great nemesis. The house of Reeve was a house divided on weekends.
1969 had been forgettable for my team, but things turned dramatically in 1970 under the guidance of the great Hassa Mann, who had come from the mythical “east” to become coach. We made the grand final against Perth. Squished against the fence on the wing at Subiaco Oval I watched mesmerised as “Cicco” kicked four goals, won the Simpson medal and swept us to a premiership. Life could get no better.
The 70’s were all over the place for South Fremantle, but those years gave me the greatest pleasure of all as a fan. The era stamped the arrival of some of the games’ great Aboriginal footballers.
The brilliant Sebastian Rioli came from Darwin in ’72 and would be followed by his brother Maurice a little later. Basil Campbell was built like a tank and could kick a torp further than anyone I’d seen, especially with the sou wester whipping in from the hospital end.
“Then there was Benny Vigona, who was a one man highlight reel.”
But my hero was Stephen Michael. He was the prototype for Adam Goodes, a gifted athlete who would ruck all day and run like a midfielder. In the modern game he’d be a half million dollar a year star, but 30 years ago he had to squeeze training and playing into his work for a transport company.
Ironically, my first WAFL grand final working in the media was watching my team fall to East Fremantle in 1979. As a cadet sports journalist with Channel Seven in Perth, I was an excited and wide eyed kid now reporting on the players I had idolised.
One of the great joys of this time was helping produce the show that had been such a huge part of my childhood, the World of Football.
I learnt a lot about live television production through those years, but the lasting memories are of the people I worked with. Two are worth special mention. Steve Marsh was a South Fremantle great in the 50’s, a tough as nails goldfields rover who went to the “big smoke” and forged an extraordinary career. Steve was a much loved panellist on the World of Football, who would always bring his dear wife Joy with him to the studios.
He’d mix his metaphors like no other, but when he spoke and shook your hand or grabbed you in a bear hug, it was all genuine Australian warmth. Steve was extremely generous in his friendship and always made me feel part of the mob. I was a schmucko assistant producer, he was a true football legend. But he was much more than a champion ex footballer, he was a gentleman, in the true sense of the word.
The other former player and panellist who made a huge impact on me was Kevin Murray.
The Fitzroy great would always go out of his way to chat, ask an opinion about something he’d said on the show or happily talk about his playing days. Kevin was quietly spoken and self effacing, but to me represented all that was good about the Australian game and indeed the Australian character.
I saw him again in the Seven studios in Melbourne last year after 25 years. He grabbed my hand with those big mitts and said Simon, love watching Sunrise, you’re doing well and so on. I thought, heck, this from a man who won a Brownlow and nine best and fairest awards for Fitzroy.
They really don’t make ‘em like Steve Marsh and Kevin Murray any more.
Sadly, Frank Abrugiato passed away some years back and the Roma restaurant is no more.
The Dockers, often like South Fremantle before them, can frustrate the hell out of their supporters, myself among them. But there’s still that amazing pasta, cheesecake and coffee up the road from Fremantle Oval, that affirms the good things in life beyond footy.
Maybe that’s our problem at Fremantle.
It’s just a game after all.
AFL – official website