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BRETT GEEVES: The night Roy threw a beer at my head and won my heart forever

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15th May, 2022
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The passing of Andrew Symonds came as a horrible shock to the cricket community and our collective thoughts and love are with his family and friends.

Reflecting on Roy’s time in the game has been difficult. The news stories and social media updates all show the ultra-athletic run-outs, the spectacular catches, and the hard-hitting-all-format-entertainer in between the chronology of misdemeanors, abandonment, and general professional athlete naughtiness.

The highs and lows all captured in a series of three-minute news openers that had us on the edge of our seats – every damn time. That was Roy. Captivating. The Entertainer.

My own social dealings with him were few but memorable. In every one of them, he took the piss out of me in a way that only my closest friends and family ever have. For a cricketer, this type of immediate interaction was rare, which is what made it so surprising, entertaining, memorable and excellent.

I loved him for it. It’s why the fans loved him too.

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The Akubra-wearing hunter from far North Queensland, with the dreadlocks, and a penchant for booze and wrangling streakers with tackles and body checks. His all-world, all-round game, and an entire life, built on fun, freedom and abrasive humour – with the occasional beer, important for balance.

My only tour with Roy happened to be the one he got sent home from. And no. This was not school camp.

At the time, I could only find humour and admiration in Roy’s decision to go fishing instead of attending a team meeting. I could name only a handful of cricketers who truly enjoyed a team meeting, particularly one classified as ‘compulsory’, and there hasn’t been one where I haven’t thought about breaking the window and bounding out for the lure of a beer and a game of golf.

Well, Roy did it, for the lure of Barra. His legend had only grown in my eyes.

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Or did he?

You won’t believe this, but up until today – when I googled some news stories on Roy going fishing – I had no idea the team meeting Roy missed was not on the original itinerary. And I was there. In the actual meeting. With a copy of the actual itinerary!

Andrew Symonds

Andrew Symonds (Getty Images).

There was an optional training session in the afternoon, which he had communicated he wasn’t attending, and the call went out that morning that a compulsory team meeting was being scheduled. Of course, by the time those comms were sent out, Roy was in deep waters, with no phone reception, so was completely unaware of the meeting.

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An intentional leadership stitch-up?

As a newbie into the squad, it was clear there was some tension surrounding the leadership group and Roy. He wasn’t involved in the week-long pre-tour camp at the AIS in Brisbane, and the first time I saw him as a member of that ODI squad to play Bangladesh, in Darwin, was after I had boarded the flight set to carry us north.

As the business class section of that flight filled quickly with Australian team tracksuits and civilians in suits, I settled into my seat, next to Mike Hussey, put my glasses on and picked up a book.

“OI, GREEVES YOU *******, NICE GLASSES, HAHAHAHAHAHA” boomed a deep voice from the back. Guess who?

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I turned around and returned serve with a meek offering of my chubby middle finger before diving back into my book, content in the knowledge Roy had taken time out of his day to ensure I was comfortable. Huss was beside himself (which, thinking about it, would have put him on my lap) with anxiety around the comments made. I appreciated the worry, but gave it no further thought until the team manager showed similar concern once we disembarked via the front stairs.

To be honest, the concern felt a little over the top, and I was more appreciative of the fact that Roy had engaged me with the type of nonsense I would have got from my non-cricketing mates at home. Whenever I walked into my old football club, I’d be doused in verbal and set alight by ridicule – as would every other person that walked by.

It seemed odd that this type of interaction would cause such concern. And adds a layer to the already tense environment Roy was seemingly in.

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It’s why when I walked past Roy only a few months later at The Normanby Hotel in Brisbane, and he was surround by about eight wildly drunk strangers, all hammering him with questions and verbal, I stopped to offer him a release from them via a beer.

My shout.

“Onya Greevesy, those blokes were starting to grind me”.

I left Roy with a group of Tassie players to go and get a round of beers.

Post-midnight at The Normanby means that beer is served out of plastic cups. It’s a pretty safe way of operating and well done to the establishment for taking that type of common-sense approach to safety.

As I hand the beers over to the group, I can see Roy’s body language and general demeanour change. It’s as if I’ve spat at him.

“JESUS, GREEVESY, I DON’T DRINK BEER OUT OF PLASTIC CUPS, WHAT DO YOU THINK I AM!!??”

SPLASH!!

That plastic cup, and that beer, flew at my head. And off went Roy, carrying my heart forever.

Roy’s entire career: his preparation, his post-match recovery and his personal style had been crafted by the old school. Those old-school Bulls and their hard drinkin’, hard playin’ and easy-winnin’ ways.

The transition into high performance – the politics of people, behavioural expectations, communication styles, psychological profiling, money, jealousy, and hierarchies – just wasn’t a natural fit for him through a decade of repetition in another style; particularly after Cricket Australia refused to stand with him as he fought against the politics and hierarchies of organisational high performance in his personal fight against racism.

Conform to their standards? After they abandoned him? It was unfair to expect anything else.

Roy is a one of one.

Described today as:

“A cult figure.”

“A generational talent.”

“The best all-round fielder the world has seen.”

“A real heart and soul type.”

“An extraordinary player and even better human being.”

“He had so much charisma and mystery. A sharp wit but he would stand up to anyone or anything if he didn’t think something was right.”

His impact on a generation of cricketers, and fans, has been profound. But not near as important, or as large, as the impact he has made on his two young children, Billy and Chloe, and his wife Laura.

His legacy lives, and loves, through them and theirs.

RIP Roy, you left your mark on more than just middle and leg.

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