EulogyBy Cameron Schwab
I lived in Perth for seven years and took it upon myself to fully embrace West Australia’s rich football tradition, particularly that which emanated from Fremantle.
During my time in Perth, I got to know George Doig and his family. George was a beautiful and humble man whose incredible football achievements were almost forgotten. In old age, George’s legend was rekindled and he received a number of honours including induction into the AFL Hall of Fame.
George was known as the “Bradman of football” kicking over 1000 goals in nine seasons as a 5′ 7″ full forward. Prior to being recruited by East Fremantle, he kicked 26.21 for his local club – which was the entire team’s score.
The Fremantle Football Club Best and Fairest medal is known as the Doig Medal in honour of 17 Doigs who played senior football in WA, most in Fremantle. Ron Doig was killed playing football in the WAFL at the age of 23. They represent an amazing football story that is too seldom told.
George died in 2006 and I was asked by the family to deliver the eulogy at his funeral.
This is what I spoke about at the service
I am indeed honoured and humbled to be delivering this eulogy today.
Today George’s family, in particular Margaret, Don and Malcolm share their grief with many.
Their family, which stretches over four generations, friends, and there are many – but also those for which the folklore of George Doig is entwined with their own heritage, whether they personally knew George or not, such is his legacy.
I am sure that in time they, and we, will wipe away the tears, but in the case of George Doig we will never be able to wipe away the memories. They will be preserved forever in image and words.
They are embedded in the very heart of our game.
Most sporting heroes of George’s era were almost accidental. It was pursuing a love and passion over necessity – food on the table, a roof over your family’s head – and sport rarely provided this comfort.
But for George there was no accident – just destiny and choice.
There had already been a generation of Doigs, doing what it seems they did best. Playing the Australian game for almost as long as the game had been played in Western Australia.
This was a time of burgeoning communications, making sport so much more accessible.
The deeds of the athletes were reported in prose, the exploits of the players idealised as the journalists and writers painted the picture for the many who were unable to witness the event itself.
It was soon that the lenses of photographers were being pointed in the direction of these athletes. This only added to the romance of their deeds and heroes were born – accidental or not.
If you were English it was Stanley Matthews, American Babe Ruth and if you were Australian it was dependent on what time of the year it was and where you lived.
In the summer it was our Don Bradman, in the spring it was Phar Lap, but in the winter it was football, and location meant everything.
And it was the goalkickers that captured the imagination, our fascination. They were the rock stars of their generation.
If you were Victorian it was Nuts Coventry or Bob Pratt, South Australian Ken Farmer, and if you were West Australian it was George Doig.
And it is George’s heroics that produced some of the icon images of our sport.
There’s George in sepia, cinnamon eyes languidly looking into the camera, perhaps aware of his own legend, or that which was about to emerge, but either way somehow unaffected.
There’s George, fingers outstretched towards an incoming ball, making the most of his 5 foot 7 inches, perhaps out of habit. The fullbacks of his era were an angry breed, playing with a fury, as though someone had stolen their billy carts when they were kids.
Inevitably, these fullbacks were left standing on the mark, pawing the ground and being reminded that the crowds that flocked to the games had come to watch George Doig kick goals, not them trying to stop him.
There is an image however that is now so famous, so well known, so familiar that you feel as though you were at the game itself.
You will know the one, George kicking the ball, I am sure at goal.
It captures George, but it also captures an era.
The laces on his lace-up jumper are spread, revealing his firm belly, a working man’s belly. The EF has been split from the FC on his Old Easts jumper, his shorts are flapping, the woollen socks heavy.
There is an opposition player in the background, making his way back to the centre even though the ball has not yet been kicked such is the inevitability of the outcome.
It is a “Boys Own Annual” action, head in line with the ball, instep taut, perfect follow-through and balance, every pound of his small body being forced through the football. The ball itself looks unusually large such is his slight of frame.
The goal was kicked, I am sure. With George they flowed from his boot as runs flowed from Bradman’s bat, and heroes of an era became icons of their sport.
Perhaps it is this image that should be captured in bronze and located at Fremantle Oval.
Unfortunately it can’t be placed 35 yards out, slight angle, because that is where the current generation of would-be George Doig’s, if there will ever be such a thing, try and perfect the art of goal kicking which somehow seems more fallible than ever.
As Jack Sheedy said the other day, every boy in Fremantle wanted to be George Doig, although I am sure those who supported the red and white would never admit it, and if so begrudgingly.
Western Australian football has the finest tradition of champion goalkickers.
It as though there has been a baton relay of star full-forwards, and when the baton reached George way back in 1933, no one could have imagined what was about to emerge.
A war gets in the way of a lot of things, tragically, and it took a war to halt George’s goalkicking. He left the game with 1,111 goals in 202 games at an average of 120 goals per season. Remarkable.
George lived a long life, long enough to have an almost forgotten legend rediscovered as our sport finally got around to celebrating its heroes in a way they deserve.
And for George, they came thick and fast and he accepted them proudly and humbly. Til the end, George let the goals do the talking.
The Fremantle Football Club is the modern incarnation of one of Australia’s great sporting legacies.
It is a legend represented by many tough men, wearing blue and white, and red and white, who lived hard lives playing every game as though it was their last – and often it was.
Who knows what the next day might bring back on the wharf?
And at the heart of this was the Doig family, seventeen in all, one of whom Ron Doig drew his final breath on the football field of battle, sustaining fatal injuries at the age of 23 whilst playing for South Fremantle. He was both captain and coach of South and had also played cricket for Australia.
The game can be tragic as it is glorious.
It is George who came to represent this dynasty for the greatness of his play and for the humility and dignity of his person.
It is this legend that led to our Club’s decision to name our Club Champion Award the Doig Medal.
It is a medal now proudly worn by the current generation of players that represent the Fremantle heritage, and til now presented by George, himself presented with his own Doig Medal a couple of years ago.
George Doig was a beautiful man with a proud and beautiful family.
Destiny or not, it would seem he did not set out to be a legend, it just happened that way.
We will miss you George.