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Jacko : A legend of the club


The passing of Phil Jackson has been an opportunity to wonder how a life that achieves excellence on so many levels passes under the community radar.

It’s a chance to reflect on the life of a man who kept out of the spotlight, but yet lived in a way that sent ripples across the globe, who left his mark on a sporting club, a community and a family.

From his fibro family home at Asquith in Sydney’s sprawling north, the beach at Tamarama was a train and a bus ride away, but that didn’t prevent Phil Jackson’s life-long enthusiasm for the water.

His parents didn’t have the funds to pay for swimming club fees at his local pool. But as a ten year old , the young Phil swam backwards and forwards shadowing other paid-up swimmers from the next lane as the coach, an Empire Games medal winner,  put club members through their paces. Only when he started to beat some of them in races did he find a place in the club.

If he wasn’t swimming, he was playing football.

Phil played Rugby Union as a young teenager, playing on the wing for Hornsby. Later the 6 stone 3 winger would switch to League where the weight divisions still applied, and was soon selected for the regional suburban side for a country tour.

His grandfather had worked as a strapper for Eastern Suburbs in the top Sydney league grade, and his passion for the Roosters was welded on.

But the waves and water beckoned and in his final year of high school Phil was selected in the NSW CHS water polo team to tour New Zealand. Years later he would play in a local water polo comp in Orange.

In his mid-twenties he remembered using his local knowledge of the rips and currents of Tamarama Beach in an open water surf race, beating another swimmer who would win an Olympic medal two years later.

After finishing school, he won a position at the Australian Bureau of Statistics at Wynyard, finding himself among a quirky collection of public servants. Sitting at the next desk to Phil was a sparky young woman, one Deirdre O’Brien who became the love of his life.

Working in stats suited him. Phil was always good at playing with figures, but Deidre recalls a young man who avidly studied the newspaper at work, pawing over the Monday morning football numbers.

While Phil’s family had little interest in politics, Deirdre’s father was a senior union official.

Sparked by her interest in debate and the future of society, Phil joined the Balmain branch of the Labor Party at a colourful time in its history. Mere branch-stacking had nothing on the local ALP members who sorted their disputes to the backdrop of fire extinguishers flying from first storey windows.

He began studying food technology at TAFE and was soon working in that field at Lindemans at the same time as another young wine maker, Phillip Shaw.

Professionally, Phil came to the central west as part of the team that opened the Friskies plant at Blayney in the mid-eighties.  He began as Food Technology manager, and later took on an international role for global food company, Nestle. Until he retired Phil worked as the Oceania Regulatory Affairs Manager for Nestle, travelling Asia and most of the southern hemisphere dealing with the intricacies of international import and export regulations across many continents.

For Phil, competitive sport didn’t stop as he got older.

The building of the Homebush Swimming Centre for the Sydney Olympics and the chance to swim there competitively was the incentive for Phil to tackle the challenge of the Corporate Games and later the Australian Masters Games.  

A sprinter in the 50 metres and 100 metres events, he won national events for his age in backstroke, free style and in relay events.

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He listened to the Goons on radio every Saturday, but it was Phil’s sense of the outrageous in the work of comedy writers like Roy & HG and John Clarke & Bran Dawe that triggered his own twisted commitment to sports writing.

In 1999, when he started playing football with the newly- formed Barnestoneworth Club in Orange in only its second year,  fielding teams in the Orange over 35s comp in 1999, Phil soon  fell into a role as a club scribe.

Week by week throughout the football season for more than a decade he wrote match reports  published in the CWD.

Much more than the colour of the game and who won, these reports built a cult following, without almost anybody at the paper knowing about it.

A little background:  Four or five pages into the paper from the back page, you’ll find the results page. Printed in smaller than usual font size, this is the place in the paper where the dads of the Under 6 Braves write encouraging pieces about all the players running in the same direction for the first time.  

Filled with acres of small-print details about games that almost no-one attended, the paper runs these pages because they know all ten parents of under-6 Braves will buy a copy.

But staff and subs certainly wouldn’t spend any time checking what was sent in. Copy the email and paste the text into place. Maybe add a headline.

This is why for years and years, Phil got away with writing pure fiction.

Sure there’d be the skeleton of a match report, the result and who scored. But apart from the result, Phil’s stories often bore no resemblance to the games as they were played. Instead, he would pick up on a topic and run with it.

The bulk of the article would flow from what ever made the news that week. Players would return to the field from injuries suffered during podiatry mishaps at the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras the night before. The ALP Sussex Street Right wing faction would dominate football club’s AGM. Lingerie parties would be hosted. Swine Flu would leave its mark. Michael Jackson was a regular.

There was the visit of the Anti-doping Agency to a game, and Phil described their interest in the player who in fact had no traceable blood but appeared to run on liquid helium.

Barnies Management, we learnt, were extremely disappointed the week the Order of Australia awards overlooked the exploits of Barnies for services to artificial insemination.

Team members sprouted fictional nick-names as Royal Commission witness, Tony ‘Mokbel’ Kavanagh, returned from Greece and refused to respond to questioning.

Injured players Mick Carpenter and Phil Davis were unavailable due to anatomical injuries that only a gynaecologist would understand.

The popularity of the reports can be found in the sporting monikers that have stuck years later. Tony ‘Mokbel’ Cavanagh, (club president) Phil ‘Obama’ Hodges and others still answer to their Phil penned nick-names at what Jacko titled the post game ‘rehydration’ sessions at a local watering hole.

Phil epitomised so many of the things people within the Barnies fold enjoy about what he satirically labelled ‘the thinking man’s club’ : skill, wit, humour, mateship and the pursuit of fun, undimmed by age.

Jacko played 13 seasons for the red and white before he hung up his boots at the end of the 2011 season. 

Although Phil had retired in 2011, he was often seen at Barnies games, social occasions and presentation nights, less so over the last 12 months as his health began to decline.

Phil Jackson passed away 15 May 2015.

A battle with pancreatic cancer which lasted more than a year was another sign of his determination to compete every day. 

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