It happens to the best of them!
I always had a Chris Judd secret. What if I had been a part of the extended Judd family? Crazy, I know, but hear me out.
Back when I was 12 I started high school and was in class with a girl by the name of Kate Twigley. Yes, that Twigley. Well, not exactly that Twigley, but the sister of that Twigley.
What if I had been with one Twigley and Chris had been with the other? My life would have been so much different.
OK, back to reality. My life wasn’t actually altered in that seismic way by knowing Chris Judd personally, but my life has always been affected in little ways by being a Judd fan.
With other focuses as a young man, I had what would be considered a passing interest in the AFL. My two clubs were Swan Districts – stuck in the midst of a 20-year premiership drought – and West Coast, who were in the comedown of the Mick Malthouse era.
I was willing for something to pull me back. That thing was the speed and skill of a young Chris Judd.
I’m proud to say I saw Judd’s only match in East Perth colours. I am not so proud to say that I told people that his first-up performance was likely a fluke and he would be in the WAFL for a few games yet.
While most fans and media experts were quick to anoint Judd as the next big thing, being overawed by match winning performances, I was just two degrees of separation away from Judd and hearing the stories from my circle of friends, that Judd and fellow draftee Ashley Hansen were simply playing out time as Eagles before moving back to Melbourne after their contracts expired.
I didn’t want Judd to be the Eagles star that others wanted.
So it wasn’t until 2004, when Judd re-signed with West Coast, that I was ready to get behind Judd as an Eagle great. By that point Judd had already built match-winning displays and a highlight reel of great moments.
September 2004 is remembered as Judd’s ascension by winning the Brownlow, but for me the moment he should have won AFL respect and West Coast fans’ attention was laying a game-high nine tackles and picking up a game-high 12 contested possessions against Sydney in a one-sided elimination final. That was the game that showed Judd was a West Coast player, and wanted to win a premiership as a West Coast player.
The great games continued in 2005 and 2006 as Judd built his own personal accolades, yet none of that really seemed to sit that comfortably with the man himself. As was proven at his farewell press conference, he was all about the team and the club.
Perth is a small town and as much as I had heard these stories about Judd, I never really got to speak to the man himself. In fact the closest I came was in September 2006, on the eve of an elimination final with Sydney.
Judd was crossing a street next to Subiaco Oval, I was driving a car paying no attention to the road. Our paths nearly crossed that day by way of car to a legend. Again, how different my life would have been had I been the guy that ran Chris Judd over weeks before West Coast went on to win a premiership. My own Steve Bartman ‘what if’ moment.
As much as it was a disappointment when Judd made the decision to move to Carlton, you could not begrudge him wanting to go home. He had given his all for West Coast, for his teammates and for the fans. He was a large part of the reason why West Coast lifted the holy grail for a third time and that should never be forgotten.
Sadly for Judd, that moment was the pinnacle.
As the years have passed at Carlton you could only marvel at the man and what he had reinvented himself as. Knowing his body was unable to be the player he was, Judd became a contested-ball machine and a veteran who used all his experience to beat his opponents. That, and an unrelenting will to help his team.
Even though Judd may have been on the opposite side of the country, still the stories came through and my respect only grew. At one job I had, Judd had been given our managing director as a personal mentor. How could you not respect a guy who, despite being at the height of his football powers, was still smart enough to be preparing for life after football? How refreshing was it to hear a player who wasn’t going to consider the cheap way of using his playing career to get sporting opportunities. This was a man who wanted to have an impact in business as much as he had an impact in sport.
As a football fan and a Chris Judd fan, the past three days you rode the emotions of loss; firstly it was denial in that the injury would be that serious, anger that he was to be written off, bargaining in believing he wanted to write a better football ending, depression at the realisation that Tuesday morning’s conference was going to be it, and finally acceptance as Judd gave one of the truly great football speeches.
This speech wasn’t really about the football though. This was about a kid who became a man. This was about a man who had a family. This was about a life. A life that I always wished I had been a bit closer too, but now in retrospect consider myself lucky to have even been this close to.
I never did get the chance to speak to Judd. He finished his speech with two simple words: that’s it.
All I need in return is two words.