REMEMEBERING FRED COOK IN LIFE AND AFTER HIS DEATH IN FEBRUARY 2022 VFA LEGEND FRED COOK TALKS DRUGS and Ben Cousins
My tribute to Fred Cook in The Age - 25 March 2007
Tall, with luxurious brown hair and a cheeky smile that radiated from a broad face, he was as charismatic off the ground as he was, insurmountable on it. There was however nothing orthodox or politically correct about Fred’s approach to life. After 33 games with AFL club Footscray, a bag of cash was enough to induce 21-year-old Cook to turn his back on what would surely have been an illustrious AFL career and cross to the second tier Victorian Football Association. He first moved to Yarraville winning the league’s best and fairest trophy despite his team winning just one game. He transferred to Port Melbourne in 1971 and during a pre-season game the following year suffered a ‘heart attack’ after the first quarter, but played out the game taking 17 marks. In a Reserves match on his return months later he kicked 16 goals. In the coming years, with VFA football televised to large Sunday audiences, Cook amassed goal-kicking records, six premierships, and rock-star like fame. But one game, the 1976 Grand Final, stands above them all, and reads like a metaphor of his life. Port Melbourne was a raging favourite when it confronted Dandenong and all eyes were on Cook. The 32,000 at the ground and the huge TV audience were stunned when the cameras panned to him lying unconscious in the goal square. Apparently, the man who’d knocked him to the ground, Allan Harper, had told a teammate of his intentions. With 119 goals under his belt before the Grand Final, Cook was the difference between the two teams. Bleeding profusely from a deep cut to his mouth and semi-conscious, once he was lifted to his feet Cook waved his teammates and trainers away. Moments later, with characteristic speed and purpose he led and marked the football, a sign to the Port faithful that there was no stopping their hero. He would survive the assault to kick five goals in one of the most courageous and heroic performances in the history of Australian Rules football. At half-time Cook’s gaping wound had been stitched up by the club doctor, Lynn Madden, surely the first woman doctor in an Australian professional football club – football back then was a male enclave. A product of an old blokey world, Cook liked to regale his mates with stories about the spoils of “wine, women and song”, including a ‘night’ with the daughter of a well-known British MP. It wasn’t malicious but it was his achilles heel. Not surprisingly his marriages, three of them, came and went, but he always said Madden did a good job on his mouth. When his career 1984 amphetamines quickly replaced the euphoria of football. Murderous drug dealer Dennis Allen swished some speed in Fred’s Bacardi and Coke in 1985 at Cook’s Station Hotel in Port Melbourne, the die was cast. It wasn’t long before his mate, football identity Sam Newman, was offering him some serious advice. “Why don’t you apply the same principles that made you a champion footballer to your private life?” said Newman, as he stumped up the bail money at the Melbourne City Watch House, where Cook was being held on drug charges. On Tuesday, after years of tumult, Cook died peacefully in a nursing home in Bendigo, 154 kilometres north of the dockside suburb once synonymous with wharfies and gangsters, that had propelled him to legendary status. Cook wasn’t a fighter, a thug or a standover man, but nor was he an ordinary bloke. He still holds the record for most goals kicked in the VFA (1336) and was the first VFA player to reach 300 games.
When I interviewed him during an ABC football telecast 2007, his quirky sense of humour and sublime, unpretentious storytelling shone once more. Cook was easy to love. He didn’t need to boast about being an entertainer like Nick Kyrgios – he didn’t need to because the memories are captured so vividly in old videos, now transported to YouTube, and because he was “Fabulous Freddie” and he and we knew how good he was.