The Anzac spirit will never die
Listening to the stories of just a handful of leaders from local football clubs it becomes apparent quite quickly that the spirt of the Anzacs will never die.
The firm handshakes, the look in the eyes, the emotion as they voice their words, that spirit of our service men and women – both past and present – lives strong in the young men and women of today.
Anzac Day means everything to Jack Kowarzik from Pakenham.
His great grandfather was a Captain in Tobruk, his grandfather Alec Kowarzik a stoker in the Korean War and a man who instilled in his grandson the importance of not taking anything for granted.
“My earliest memories of Anzac Day are going to dawn service at the Dandenong RSL with my grandpa, my brother and my dad,” Jack said.
“My grandpa was president of the RSL at the time and told us that if people can sacrifice their lives for our way of life, we can sacrifice a couple of hours to reminisce and listen to their stories.
”I really do encourage people to attend their local dawn service and reflect for a short time on the sacrifices that were made for our country – and be grateful for it.”
Such is Kowarzik’s passion for Anzac Day he initially thought it wrong that football should be played on the day…but his thoughts have swung around.
“I thought it wasn’t appropriate, but love that it makes everyone think about it and brings it to the fore,“ he said.
“It’s become such a positive thing and a privilege to play on the day, not for the footy but to pay homage to the day itself. In that minute’s silence, I don’t think about footy at all, I think about my grandpa and the people who didn’t make it back.”
Kowarzik’s last words are chilling in the current environment.
“Imagine if a war broke out tomorrow and all the players in my team had to go. Just think how many of them wouldn’t come back and how horrible that would be.”
For Officer’s Sean Roach, the day also has special meaning.
His great grandfather Leo Monaghan was a talented footballer who was named best on ground in Fitzroy’s preliminary final win in 1944.
He was on the cusp of his greatest moment in football when his orders came through during the week and he was off to New Guinea and never got to play in the grand final.
“He played 52 games in 14 years because of the war and the injuries he sustained, “ Roach explained.
“He was very proud of the service he made but it took a severe toll on he and his family, and his football career as well. He was injured by a booby trap and had shrapnel wounds all down the left side of his body and had gangrenous knees.
“He had parts of his knees cut off and tied bricks to his legs to teach himself how to walk again. We don’t understand how hard that would be, and because of the service they gave hopefully we never will.”
Roach said hearing the bugle play on Anzac Day was the time when he really did stop and reflect.
”I’ve been lucky enough to play at two clubs now that play on Anzac Day and the only I can describe it – it’s a very unique feeling and makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up,” he said.
“You can’t fathom what those people went through. But what they would have wanted would be for us to remember and that’s the most important part of the day.
“I love Anzac Day and it’s a privilege to be involved.”
Former Officer president Barry O’Loughlin was just 17 years old in 1981 when his mum dropped him off in the city and he jumped on a bus to go to the Army Recruit Training Centre in Kapooka, near Wagga.
He didn’t see his mum for the next eight months as he trained for 15 years of service that would see him overseas on two occasions and serve in nearly every state in Australia.
He is still mates with some of the young men that he jumped on that bus with 37 years ago.
“There’s a bond there that will never be broken, a camaraderie, a brotherhood, because you work with these guys and rely on each other – your life is each other’s hands,“ O’Loughlin explained.
“You can never compare football to war, but that reliance on each other and building a strong bond is probably the biggest similarity I think.”
O’Loughlin said his thoughts were mixed on Anzac Day.
“I’m rapt the way Anzac Day is now, it lost its way there for a while, but my thoughts are about the soldier and his family because they did it very tough as well,” he said.
And the final word goes to Cranbourne captain Brandon Osborne, who acknowledges that playing football on Anzac Day had given him a greater understanding of what the day truly means.
“Last year we had a member of the SAS (Special Air Service) talk to the club and it was a real eye-opener to hear what he had been through,” Osborne said.
“”Footy is nothing in comparison. We take our lives for granted, we definitely do, but it’s great to reflect on Anzac Day and truly cherish what we’ve got.”