THE VFA'S GREATEST PLAYER?
HE walked in with his wife and eldest son and looked edgy as he
collected his name badge. Fred Cook had not been to a J.J. Liston
Trophy count for more than 20 years and it had been a long time
since he'd seen many of the people mingling in the foyer of the
Skyline room at Melbourne Park.
Cook took a lemon squash from a waiter and shuffled to the right
entrance. One hand cradled his drink and the other was buried in
the pocket of his suit. His wife and son followed him and they made
small talk until someone moved over and shook his hand. Many eyes
had turned to
him to see how he looked.
He was uneasy but he looked good, far better than when he was making
those court appearances for drug offences. He was a pathetic figure
then, gaunt and scruffy and carrying the vacant, lost expression
addict. It was hard to recognise him as the Port Melbourne champion
bestrode the VFA in the 1970s and '80s, kicking goals from ludicrous
angles, holding off packs to take his marks and displaying a showman's
Cook is slowly re-building his life and the Liston appearance was
a little step on a long road. He had phoned VFL general manager
Martin Stillman for an nvite.
'I actually said to Martin when I rang him, `Mate, what have you
done to my
competition, I left it in good hands, we had crowds of 20,000 and
you've f--- it up around me','' Cook laughed last week. He owned
up to being `pretty apprehensive'' about attending, but the more
hands he shook the more relaxed he became. As he moved to his table
in the function room, Phil
Cleary marched over and said ``Fred, how are
`Cleary, I hadn't spoken to him for a few years,'' Cook said.
'You know your friends. When I was in jail Cleary came and visited
didn't have to do that. He's a man's man.''
Cleary, doing interviews at the Liston, made a point of highlighting
presence and there was sustained applause. It was fabulous to see
`The whole day made me feel good,'' Cook said.
``There were a lot of real friends there that I've kept away from.
A lot of real
friends. What happens with friends is, you don't see them for a
months, six years and when you bump into them again you pick up
conversation where you left off. Like, `How's it going, where have
been?' That's the feeling I had there. Made me happy.''
Drugs took Fred Cook from hero to zero. He had the popular Station
Hotel in Port Melbourne, radio, television and newspaper gigs, a
of properties and a pile of money. The pub was putting $10,000 a
week into his pocket. But there weren't enough hours in the day
'A well-known criminal was in my pub and he opened a little plastic
and put some white powder on the end of a pen knife and put it in
drink,'' he said.
`I was choked up with the flu and had to go to a sportsman's night
(English fast bowler) John Snow and Neil Roberts. I was as crook
as a dog.
`Anyway he put this white powder in my drink and half an hour later
f--- terrific. I had a burst of energy, I felt fantastic. I thought,
`If I take twice as much I'll feel twice as good.' Big mistake.''
He began leaning on drugs. Speed was his go and he took so much
that it made strong liquor as weak as tea. Cook could guzzle down
three bottles of Southern Comfort and a 40-ounce bottle of Bacardi
a day and stay sober. While it never made him drunk it made him
`I lost the taste for alcohol,'' he said. ``I could sit down and
drink a bottle of Bacardi and drink it like it was a bottle of water,''
`But I was very unhappy. I remember one day I was sitting down with
Fraser and Ted Whitten and the fellow who used to run East-West
Bryan Grey. Neale Fraser said to me, `Fred, you must be the happiest
alive, you've got everything.'
`I had centrefolds working at the pub, had houses in Port and South,
a block of flats in Surfers and I was depressed to no end.'' He
lost all of that and was soon getting led into court for trafficking
drugs. He'd get a bond or
suspended sentence and stand outside the court and say this was
it, that it
would be the last time he'd be messing up. A few months later he'd
be up again, for drugs or committing crimes to feed his habit.
Friends disowned him and eventually he went inside. What a sad
slide it was.
``I was in jail in the mid '90s. My wife had left me,
I had intervention orders out on me, my father didn't want to know
.th.th. I was locked down Christmas Day and New Year's Day. Locked
down means locked in your cell. There was a security strike on.
`You can imagine what TV was on Christmas Day. It got me thinking
hard. I contemplated suicide. `Now that's healthy. It's when you
plan it that it's a problem. Then I thought, `I'm better than this.'
thought was `I'm better than this, I don't need this s--- any more,
I've f--- had enough of this other life.
Cook is living on the Mornington Peninsula with his wife and three
children, two boys, 14 and 11, and a six-year-old girl `with an
He has accepted the fact that he is a drug addict. ``I choose not
because I don't like the consequences,'' he said. `If you could
prove to me
here and now that I could enjoy amphetamines and have a normal,
existence with my family and friends I would use it today,'' he
`The reason I don't is because I don't want the consequences as
as that. `The turnaround was when I realised I wasn't going to be
able to have a relationship with my wife and kids. `A lot of blokes
and play up screwing, drinking, not going home, being disrespectful
when they get thrown out they say they'll change.
`They probably mean it from the bottom of their heart. But change
time. Women can't see that until it's drawn in front of them. I
am prepared to go for the long haul. I sit here and I've got three
kids and I'm happy.''
Cook gets up in the morning, makes their breakfast, packs lunches,
makes sure homework has been finished and gets them off to the bus.
He said that if there was a `beauty'' to come out of his decline
it was that it would be a long time before his children took drugs.
Cook has told his boys that if they keep away from smokes or dope
or booze he'll buy them cars when they're 18. The 14-year-old is
already nosing through the car pages of the Saturday papers. `My
daughter, she's as
beautiful as her mother. She fell asleep on the couch. I picked
her up to
put her to bed. She flopped an arm over mine and she opened her
and she looked up and said `Daddy, I love you' and fell back to
again,'' Cook said.
`The feeling, the tingle I got in my stomach, I couldn't get that
syringe. That's the difference.''