THE MAN THEY CALLED 'COOKIE'
Next month Fred Cook will be named as Port Melbournes full
forward in its team of the century. Judged by many as the greatest
VFA/VFL player ever, Cook kicked a record 1238 goals in 258 games
as well as winning a best and fairest and six premierships in a
golden reign for Port Melbourne.
It is a shame that many people will not remember Cook as the dominating,
crowd- pleasing full forward of the 70s and 80s. His
record has been tarnished by a drug habit, which led to jail sentences
and caused many failed relationships.
Cook was not the man I had expected to meet. A fit and well-dressed
man, he incited excitement in the conversation from the outset.
Everyone and everything was mentioned as he jumped from story to
story. Numerous media and sports stars were bandied around as well
as politicians, gangsters and intellects. It seemed Cook had made
contact with the famous as well as the infamous.
Surprisingly, Cook plays down his football achievements.
Im not the best player ever. Frank Johnston was; please
say that. I was only the end result of the team in front of me.
Gee, we were a good side, Cook says humbly.
An admirable personality trait of Cooks is how glowingly
he speaks of his friends and former team-mates. Ian Owen, Bill Swan,
Graeme Anderson, David Holt, Paul Goss and Jim Cristou were some
of many fellow players he talks about in depth. Cook knew his team
so well that he believes it didnt matter how good his opposition
fullback was. He would kick goals because of the dominance of his
fellow Port players.
VFA football was at its peak when Cook played. Huge crowds would
flock to watch genuinely tough and physical men compete as if their
lives depended on the result. Cook believes it was the unexpectedness
of the VFA that the crowds loved.
The colour has gone from the game. When I played there would
be an explosion, whether it be a bit of biff on the field or whether
it was in the crowd. The footy today is sanitized, theyre
all clones of each other. The unexpected explosions just arent
there anymore, which is what the crowd loved.
Since the amalgamation of VFA/VFL clubs with AFL clubs, many VFL
supporters believe their clubs history is being forgotten
and they are being taken over by their aligned AFL club. With clubs
often fielding in excess of 14 AFL listed players and the VFL competition
commonly being referred to as the twos, it is hard for
VFL supporters of the previous generation to wholeheartedly support
It is obvious Cook is not overjoyed about the current situation
of Port Melbourne and the VFL. For the first time in the interview
he pauses and thinks before he speaks.
I feel sick saying this but they (Port Melbourne and other
VFL clubs) have lost their cultural identity. VFA used to be pretend
war. It was cultural. It was parochial. There was elation when we
won and sorrow when we lost. Every weekend we went to war with Preston,
or Coburg or Williamstown.
Cook finished his career with Port Melbourne in 1984 and life was
travelling well. He made a lot of money through the Station Hotel
in Port Melbourne, and was appearing on television, radio, and at
many sportsmens nights. Well known underworld figure, Dennis
Allen, used to drink at Cooks pub. One night when Cook was
suffering from a cold, Allan put speed into his drink. It cleared
up Cooks cold and he had a burst of energy.
I thought if I take twice as much Ill feel twice as
good and here I am today. Drugs solved all my problems for about
12 hours. When I had failed marriages and relationships, Id
go off with the fairies.
Although he has been off drugs for four years the scars still show.
I didnt cry at my mothers funeral, I was full
of drugs. Im dealing with my mums death 15 years later,
Through his football career Cook was able to beat opponents when
he played with injuries because of his mental toughness. Mental
toughness is a common feature in many great sportspeople. With drugs,
however, Cook wasnt strong enough to distance himself. He
lost many of his so-called friends from his football and media days
when the drug abuse started to take its toll. He looks disappointed
with himself when he talks about the friends he let down.
My friends were always there when I needed them. The other
500,000 acquaintances I dont give a fuck.
Cook would still use drugs today if he did not have to suffer the
I love speed, I love amphetamines. Id still do it if
I didnt have to pay for it, if I wouldnt get in any
trouble with the police and I can live a peaceful co-existence with
the rest of the community and family and friends and make rational
decisions. I did five months of rehab and I know they dont
all go together.
While he doesnt say it there is no doubt Cook feels as though
he has been a poor father and husband. He now has a good relationship
with his three youngest children and talks about them at every opportunity.
It is obvious that Cook is trying to make up for lost time.
I was stupid I couldnt realise that I was hurting
people. Telling them I loved them and was going to change. Ahh.
It was no good.
By Nathan Ryan