Farewell Lewis Roberts-Thomson, I salute you as a player. So gangly and awkward to begin with, you were as brave as they come and, if one measure of a footballer is getting up for big matches, you were a champion. Who can forget your performance in the spine-tingling first half of the 2005 grand final when you repelled the Eagles time and again?
Part of the reason I feel as I do for you as a player is that I coached two of your cousins in a Tasmanian University Football Club team. Both were intelligent, athletic footballers. One, Bruce, I developed a real fondness for. He became a doctor but was tragically killed in a car accident.
A Roberts-Thomson from an earlier generation, a gynaecologist, was Tasmanian champion at billiards and snooker. The Roberts-Thomsons were a farming family in the north-west coast of the island. Lewis’ father left Tasmania and went to the mainland to try his luck. That’s why Lewis Roberts-Thomson, having been born in Brisbane, grew up in Sydney.
They used to laugh at you when you started at the Swans. You were so very obviously learning the game, having come to it late from rugby union. They called you ”Lewis!” You were like that tall likeable character in comedies who gets things wrong but in a charming way. But no one in the footy public has called you Lewis in years. You’re LRT, a one-off, like no other.
I hold Leigh Matthews above all other footy gurus. I heard Matthews say you were one of the most valuable players in the AFL. Why? Because you could play so many positions. Centre half-back, centre half-forward, full-back, full-forward and in the pockets alongside them. You even gave a presence in the ruck.
You played in two premierships.Your performance in the second winning grand final was not as eye-catching as in the first but you were still solid as steel, playing with maximum force. It was another pitch performance.
In 2008, I met you one bright day at Bondi Beach. When I say you’re a quiet man, I mean not much louder than a breeze passing through a tree, with an equally quiet grin. We sat in the shade and looked at the waves and talked about your family history. Growing up, you spent a lot of time on Sydney’s northern beaches. You told me you like all sport but surfing is your favourite.
You grew up barracking for the Swans. Your whole family did. In time, you became part of the Bloods brotherhood that transformed the club. Your belief in the Swans’ creed was as clear and direct as your attack on the ball in a grand final. Wearing guernsey No. 30, your locker was next to that of Brett Kirk, No. 31. Captain Kirk saw in you a fearless soul like his own.
The day I met you at Bondi, the interview ended and I thought you’d get up and go. But you said you didn’t have anything to do for the next hour and that you liked listening to stories, so we sat there looking at the waves and I told you about the 1945 ”Bloodbath” grand final and Laurie Nash and other great stories of your beloved Swans.
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