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AFL Grand Final – The Fringe Dwellers Strike Back

22 Sep 2010

I was once called a ‘Fringe Dweller’.

I was making a rare appearance for Lindisfarne first grade in the Tasmanian Cricket Association.  We had a strong team, with several State players, and would play in the finals the following week.  But we lacked depth – which was why I managed to sneak into the first eleven every now and then.

“I can’t believe we’re getting beaten by Lindisfarne,” ‘an ignorant North Hobart supporter was overheard saying on that fateful day.

“They’ve got some good players, but Prins and Pickett are just Fringe Dwellers.”

The insult cut deep.  We lost our semi-final, and I immediately retired from grade cricket.  Sadly, no one really noticed, and my retirement went unreported in the Hobart media.

(Ironically, the Hobart Mercury did report that I was a ‘debutant’ on at least five separate occasions.  Apparently I never made much of an impression on the local cricket writer).

But now, I can finally revel in my status as a Fringe Dweller – because Fringe Dwellers are about to strike back.

Leigh Brown, Fringe Dweller

Leigh Brown, Fringe Dweller

We have a new hero, and his name is Leigh Brown – the Ultimate Fringe Dweller.

Unwanted by Fremantle.  Sacked by North Melbourne.  Ridiculed by Collingwood supporters.

But come Saturday, he is likely to be a Grand Final Winning Hero.

Collingwood deserve to be white-hot favourites.  They have been the best team in the AFL this year, and they clinically destroyed the second best team, Geelong, last weekend.  St Kilda are good, but they will not get close to Leigh Brown and the rampaging Pies.

On behalf of the Brotherhood of Fringe Dwellers, I hope that Leigh Brown kicks four, and that the ball is in his hands when the final siren sounds.

When you think about though, Leigh Brown may be the latest first Fringe Dweller to make good, but he isn’t the first (and won’t be the last).

Here’s a list of ten Fringe Dwellers who have changed the course of history.

10.  Leigh Brown – see above.  His destiny awaits.

9.  Mile Jedinak – if you’ve heard of Mile Jedinak, it’s probably because you know he was part of the Socceroos squad in South Africa, and is one of our brightest football stars playing in the big leagues of Europe.  But just a few years ago Mile Jedinak was a Fringe Dweller, kicking around in the NSW State League.  In 2006 he won a short-term contract with the Central coast Mariners.  When new Socceroo Coach Pim Verbeek selected a squad of 40 locally-based A-League players for his first training squad in 2008, Jedinak wasn’t even on the list.  But just two years later he had been picked up by Turkish giant Genclerligi and Jedinak had gone straight from the fringe to the big time.

8.  Wayne Arthurs – For most of his tennis career Wayne Arthurs was a professional training partner.  His shtick was his big left-handed serve – so players coming up against fellow leftie Goran Ivanisevic would seek out Arthurs for practice before the match.  But he kept chipping away, carving out a moderately  successful career as a doubles player.  He eventually played in two Davis Cup finals, including Australia’s last Davis Cup victory over Spain in 2003.  Just before his 34th birthday he finally broke through to win his first ATP single tournament – the oldest ever first-time winner in professional tennis.

7.  Dean Lukin – A big bloke from South Australia who earned a living by fishing for tuna, and who trained for the Olympics by fishing for tuna.  Half the world decided to boycott the 1984 Olympics, so Lukin made the seemingly inconceivable transition from Fringe Dweller to Olympic Gold Medal-winning weightlifter.  An inspiration to all big blokes who like fishing (and can lift two refrigerators over their heads at once).

6.  James Manson – If Leigh Brown has a Magpie predecessor, it’s James Manson.  Not only did he share a name with a notorious serial killer, James Manson couldn’t kick over a jam jar, struggled with handball and ran like a duck.  But the boy could take a mark and never gave up, and that was enough.  The unlikely Fringe Dweller (along with fellow hack Mick Gayfer) proved that lack of ability was no barrier to being an AFL Grand Final winner – playing in Collingwood’s 1990 premiership and helping to break the club’s  32-year premiership drought.

5.  Ted Hopkins – Ted Hopkins played just 29 games of VFL footy, and kicked just 10 goals in his entire career, but he etched his name in football history in the 1970 Grand Final.  With Carlton trailing Collingwood by 44 points at half time, coach Ron Barassi gambled by bringing unheralded Fringe Dweller Hopkins off the bench and into the forward pocket.  Carlton staged an incredible comeback, with Hopkins kicking four goals and steering the side to victory.  His teammates chaired him off the ground.  He played one more match for Carlton (again off the bench) and quietly retired to become a park ranger.

4.  Bob Holland – Every club cricket hack knows the story of Bob Holland.  Called up to play his first game of Sheffield Shield cricket for NSW at 32, he made a remarkable debut for the Australian Test team at age 38.  By then his grey hair was turning white, but his leg  breaks were turning just beautifully.  Holland was living proof that practice makes perfect, and that any old Fringe Dweller can play Test cricket if they’re prepared to spend 38 years practicing their googlies.

3.  Colin Miller – Perhaps spurred on by Bob Holland, Colin ‘Funky’ Miller was a swing-bowling cricket nomad who made a modest living wandering between Victoria, South Australia, Holland and Tasmania (including a stint with the famous Lindisfarne Cricket Club).  In his early 30s he decided to take up the craft of off-spin in a bid to extend his longevity in the professional game.  He went on to break the Sheffield Shield record for most wickets in a season, got called up to the Test team, took 69 Test wickets and won the Australian Test Cricketer of the Year Award.

2.  Susan Boyle – OK, this doesn’t quite fit, but tell me Susan Boyle wasn’t a Fringe Dweller?  And now she’s super famous.  Fringe Dwellers can sing too.

1.  Phar Lap –  Gangly and awkward.  Warts on his face.  He finished last in his first race, and didn’t run a place in his next three.  Phar Lap was beyond the fringe – he was a considered to be a hopeless case.  If Phar Lap can win three Melbourne Cups, then Leigh Brown can win an AFL Premiership.

Collingwood to win by 45 points.

– Stew Prins