We called him Yogi. It made sense if you met the guy, he was an enormous bear of a man.
Stood 6’4″, had just no body fat, a mop of blonde hair and the biggest smile you ever saw.
Of course he was good at footy.
I am a proud Old Boy of St Joseph’s College, Hunter’s Hill. The greatest rugby nursery in Australian history – produced more Wallabies than any other joint – 2003 was our year.
Names you know pulled on the barred socks – Laurie Weeks, Adam D’Arcy, Jeremy Tilse. The next level below them featured freaks like Duncan Hardy, Andy Lollback and a surfer from Merewether named Nick Woolf who moved from fullback to five-eighth the following year to accommodate a 15-year-old custodian by the name of Kurtley Beale (you ask me, Woolfy was better, but there’s probably a reason I’m yet to be asked to coach the Wallabies).
We had a gun team. Bunch of them played Aussie schoolboys and should have won the GPS title. But we lost on the last play of the game in the last match of the season against Riverview.
I cried for what I thought was a broken heart. I was so young.
But we’d actually lost a game earlier that year.
It was only a trial, but our firsts lined up against Knox Grammar and the boys from Wahroonga gave us a touch-up.
Now, watching Joeys lose hurts to this day. But on that day, I didn’t cry. I didn’t quite laugh, but it was a slightly easier loss to take.
See, this bloke by the name of Ben Wilson was packing down in the second row for Knox.
Vicious in defence, I swear the photo in the paper next day – because, deadset, schoolboy rugby used to get a two-page spread in the Sunday papers – was of Benny absolutely swamping one of the Joe boys.
Just a huge human wrapping his arms around (maybe, my memory ain’t the best) Mick Dan and shutting the play down.
Joeys’ legendary first XV coach Brother Anthony Boyd had a theory that if you notice a player on the field, it probably means they’ve done something great, but they’ve also made errors. The best players were the guys you didn’t notice.
The best compliment I can pay Benny on a footy field was that you didn’t notice him. He carted the ball up, won his lineouts and smashed guys in defence. You’d pick him every day because he just did his job.
I was at a party a year earlier and a girl said to me, “You’re from Newcastle. Do you know Ben Wilson?”
Having spent the summer working at Video Ezy with Benny’s smart, fierce, formidable, beautiful sisters Sarah and Katie, I felt confident in my response.
“Yeah, I know Ben.”
“That’s funny,” she replied. “He says he doesn’t know you.”
Walked right into that one.
We met that night. He was sat down the back of the party and I said g’day.
“You’re Doctor Frost’s son?”
“Let’s have a beer.”
From then on, when 17-year-old Joe Frost went to a party, I had two priorities: try get a pash, and hang out with Yogi. Honestly, if you ask me which was more important, it may have been the other way around.
So when Knox gave Joeys a beatdown – even though it was a trial (I did mention that, didn’t I?) – it didn’t hurt quite so bad, because my boy Benny had been in the middle of it all, dishing out pain.
I discovered this week that those Knox boys went through undefeated that year. Well played gents.
So if he played for the undefeated Knox firsts of 2003, the team that beat a Joeys side featuring a bunch of future professionals, then you can’t tell me Benny wouldn’t have made it.
I could have trained every day of my entire life and never have made the thirds at Joeys. I’m unco and I think too much and I’ve only got nine-and-a-half fingers (that last bit really has nothing to do with it, but it’s a convenient excuse).
But Benny had a huge frame, could throw a cut-out ball and when he crossed the white line he feared no one. Scary, scary human being to be marking.
I don’t mean to denigrate anyone who played professional rugby in the last 15 years. But if Benny wanted to, he could have worn Wallaby gold. I have no doubt.
But he had too much life to live to worry about footy.
We lived together for a time in Glebe. It was a four-bedroom house and he was the fifth. He paid us $100 a week to crash on the floor. Occasionally I would come home from a large evening and discover Benny asleep in my bed.
Guess I’m the little spoon?
When that happens, you kinda just want that person to move on. But not with Benny. He left after six months to go off and see the world, and the house was just a little colder. The rest of us went our separate ways soon after – no malice, but he had been the glue.
He went travelling. Not even kidding, he was working on a kibbutz in Israel and got bit by a viper, spent two weeks in a coma. But it takes more than a snake to take down a bear.
He went to the States and met Suge Knight at a pub. Who meets Suge Knight?!
He came home, stood on the door at the Exchange Hotel in Beaumont Street and told reprobates when they’d probably had enough (ahem, ahem).
He could sell ice to the Inuits, so of course he became a huge success when he moved back down to Sydney to start a career in tech.
He met Kate. He fell in love.
He just lived large.
I hadn’t seen him for a while but we were supposed to go away for a boys’ trip late last year. Head down to Shoalhaven, drink some beers, shoot the shit, watch the Knights lose – y’know, standard stuff we Novocastrians do.
Yogi and Kate were expecting in December. Fiona and I had our first on the way in January.
That week, we discovered our unborn son had developed a heart condition, so I gave Shoalhaven a miss.
Benny texted me:
“Fuck mate, sorry to hear about your little one.”
“Thanks mate,” I responded. “He’s a very sick little boy.”
“Our lads will be the best of friends,” he wrote back.
It meant everything. Even if I knew it could never be true.
At 8:03pm on the 12th of October 2019, Harry Alexander Frost was born. He died an hour later. Our boys never met.
And last Saturday night, Benny Wilson passed away.
Could have played for Australia but he had too much life to live.
Do me a favour, Benny. Find my boy and teach him how to tackle?
I’ll keep an eye on Jonty for you. But if he’s anything like his old man when he laces up the footy boots, I’ll just be getting in his way.