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It's Not Whether You Win or Lose

They say you can tell a lot about someone from the people they choose to surround themself with. In Ben’s case that form of analysis reflects pretty darn well on his character I have to say.

One example of this was sheeted home to us during the latter part of 2019. Some years earlier Ben and Laura, and a group of their friends, had put together a mixed OzTag side. Laura did not have much experience playing competitive sport prior to that, let alone participating in football-based activities, so it was an absolute pleasure to watch the determination with which she applied herself over the next couple of years to making sure she could more than hold her own in the team. And with the wealth of athletic talent around her, both male and female, it was no surprise they collectively enjoyed considerable success – winning multiple competitions, losing plenty of games too, but always seemingly with smiles on their faces irrespective of the result.

After Ben’s death the team found it hard to face the prospect of playing on. There was a big hole to fill in their hearts, not to mention on the field itself, and somehow the idea of running around without him seemed too much to ask of themselves. But as the months passed we, all of us, started to realise that doing things in Ben’s honour, rather than shying away from them altogether, was the best way to pay tribute to his memory.

And so The Wet Bandits (a name borrowed from the inept housebreakers in the movie Home Alone) returned to the fray – only now with a new outfit, and a new name: Ben’s Bandits. As the first person to receive one of the team’s new playing shirts I thought I could not have been prouder. That was until I watched them play in the Grand Final of their first competition back in action.

In mixed OzTag you must have at least four females on the field at all times, and no more than eight players on the field in total. Unfortunately Ben’s Bandits had been beset with injuries during the season, and with one of their best male players, Josh, stuck in Melbourne due to a cancelled flight back to Sydney on the afternoon of the Grand Final, it seemed they would only be able to field seven players in the big match.

A late ring-around led to one of the injured players, Charlie, offering to fill a spot – notwithstanding that he was still suffering the effects of a ligament strain to one of his ankles. And if this didn’t make things hard enough for the Bandits, the tenuous situation was compounded by the fact that two of the other lads would be playing in the final of the Men’s competition before the Mixed final.

So when the teams lined up for kick-off Ben’s Bandits found themselves with the bare minimum of eight players – one of those with an injured ankle, and two having just competed in a hard-fought Men’s final – up against a team with no less than five reserves! No worries Bandits. Ben would be proud of you for just having made it this far. For playing at all, let alone making the Grand Final.

Or so we thought. But Ben’s Bandits had other ideas.

The game was nip and tuck from start to finish. Just when one side seemed to be getting the upper hand, the other would fight their way back into the contest, only for the momentum to swing back again. And so it was no surprise that when the final siren sounded the teams were locked together at 8-8.

Joint premiers? Coin toss? Give the trophy to the higher placed team during the regular season? None of the above. The game would be decided via extra time, which is to continue until a try is scored (provided both teams have had at least one opportunity in possession). And if that prospect wasn’t tough enough to face, having played the entire match with no reserves, the Bandits (and their gallant opposition) would be required to play the extra period with just five players each on the field – leaving those exhausted participants unfortunate enough to remain in play to cover even more ground. (The good news: Charlie finally gets a well-earned rest after playing throughout the entire period of normal time virtually on one leg).

For what seems like an eternity the match ebbs back and forth. At least twice it looks like our team have conceded the deciding try, only for desperate cover defence from one or other of the leg-weary Bandits to save the day. The extra time continues on longer than any of us would have thought possible. Close to 10 minutes passes, and still neither side is willing to hoist the white flag.

And then, finally, when it seems an honourable draw beckons – this is a school night after all, and the ref hasn’t had his dinner yet ‑ Spacko and Bill, the two lads backing up from the Mens Grand Final, both of whom have looked out on their feet on numerous occasions, combine for a wrap-around move that sees Bill score the match-winner.

Spacko and Bill ‑ Ben’s two oldest friends, the first to put up their hands to speak at the Celebration of Ben’s Life about how much the loss of their best mate had meant to them, baring their hearts in front of a thousand people – have paid tribute to their lost friend yet again.

Yes, it is just a game of mixed OzTag in a local park on a Monday night. And yes, in the big scheme of things it shouldn’t matter whether the team has won, lost or drawn. Because sport, especially at this level, should just be about the joy of competing, and spending time doing something active with your mates.

But the eight Bandits who have given their all in Ben’s name (literally) know, and so do we, that this was about more than just a game. This was about not giving up. About making sure that life continues to move forward. About using Ben’s life to inspire us to do things we didn’t think we could do, rather than using his death as an excuse for doing nothing at all.

And so this article is dedicated with love and admiration to Ben’s Bandits ‑ Laura, Rosie, Lauren, Kara, Charlie, Nick, Spacko and Bill (and Josh). Thank you guys for inspiring us, and for reminding us all what really matters in the big Game of Life.


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