By Sam Watson

FORMER Footscray Bulldog and San Remo local Rick Spargo will be supporting his great-nephew Charlie Spargo and the Melbourne Demons on Saturday.

Rick still loves the Doggies deeply after his 64-game career there, but the family connection will see him switch allegiances on grand final day.

“I’ll definitely be supporting Charlie, and I love the Dogs, but we won it in 2016.

“When I think of dad up in the sky, he’d be so proud of someone from the family to play in a grand final and win it,” Rick said.

Rick’s dad, Bob senior, Charlie’s great grandfather, played 65 games for Footscray between 1934 and 1941, and in 1942 he played two games for Melbourne.

One of those games was Footscray’s first-ever VFL final in 1938, where Collingwood defeated them by 41 points in front of 69,000 at the MCG.

Rick often tells the story about the hours before that big final against the Pies, when Bob senior and his Bulldog teammates stopped in at a pub near the

MCG and had a few pots before going to warm up.

“That’s how they played in those days, it was a different game back then.”

Bob senior, who passed away aged 80 in 1994, and his wife Dot who lived to 103, bought a block of land on Wynne Road in San Remo 70 years ago.

And 20 years later they built a house on that block where the Spargo family formed many great memories.

“It used to be a deluxe house, now it’s a very basic house, but in its day it was dad’s treasure,” Rick said.

When Rick was seven, he saw the 1954 VFL grand final, where the legendary Ted Whitten helped the Bulldogs win their first VFL premiership.

After his playing days were over, Bob senior was Whitten’s personal trainer for years.

“Teddy used to get rubbed down on my bed when I was a little kid,” Rick said.

“And I’d sit next to him and just idolise him, Teddy was part of the family really.

“The night he was appointed coach of Footscray he was on my bed getting rubbed and mum came running in and said, “Teddy you’ve been appointed coach, Charlie Sutton’s been sacked and you’ve got it.’

“And he said to my old man ‘Sorry Bob, I’ve gotta go mate, I better get down to the club’.

“That happened on my bed, I didn’t let mum wash the pillow for ages, Teddy Whitten was a legend.”

In Whitten’s second year of coaching, in 1958, Rick’s older brother Bob junior played his first game in the red, white, and blue.

Bob junior started as a half forward for the Doggies, but he soon established himself in the centre, where he played in the 1961 grand final loss to Hawthorn.

A year later, Bob junior had his best season, polling nine Brownlow Medal votes, putting him second behind 1960 Brownlow Medallist John Schultz for Footscray players.

In 1965, at 23, Bob junior was lured over to West Perth as captain-coach and where he had a very successful career.

“Mum wasn’t happy when he went over there, she burnt his scrapbook,” Rick said.

“And dad told him he wasn’t going, but Bob said he wasn’t getting paid much by the Dogs, so he was off.”

The year after Bob junior went West, Rick played his first game for the Dogs and across 64 games he averaged 17.4 disposals and over a goal a game, stats that would see him in any AFL side today.

Unfortunately, Rick’s career was cut short when he was collected by a St Kilda player who was notorious for heavy hits.

“It ended my career really, I broke my humerus and it came out of the skin, and it buggered my shoulder up,” Rick said.

“My shoulder just kept popping out and they couldn’t fix it in those days.

“I was going really well but that was the end of me. I couldn’t tackle or anything after that.”

In 1985, Rick’s nephew and Bob junior’s son Paul Spargo made his debut for North Melbourne and played 81 games
until 1992.

And in 1993 he joined the Brisbane Bears for one year, finishing off his 90-game career with 118 goals.

In 2018, Paul’s son Charlie made his debut for the Demons where he played a pivotal role in the breakout season which saw them make a preliminary final.

When Charlie made his debut, the Spargos became the first family in VFL/AFL history to have a direct line of four generations play in the league.

A shoulder injury before he was drafted saw Charlie slide to pick 29 in the 2017 national draft, but thankfully the medical attention he received was a bit better than what his great uncle Rick had available in the early ‘70s.

Rick never tasted the ultimate success as a player, but he said the 2016 grand final was the best day of his life.

“We got the tickets, I had the luxury hotel, I was sitting on a magic seat halfway around.

“It was just a perfect day.”

So, Rick would love to see Charlie, who comes down to San Remo every now and then, experience that joy as a player.

One of the places Charlie has visited when he’s down in San Remo is Rick’s second home, the San Remo Bowls Club, where Rick’s hoping to become a club champion like Bob senior one day.

But when he’s not at the bowls club or chatting to his great footballing mates like Bernie Quinlan and Stephen Power, he’ll be watching Charlie very closely.

“I love watching him play, and I loved watching his dad Paul play and Charlie’s done it the hard way, so I hope he wins it.”

And if Charlie turns on the jets and uses his pace to snag a goal for the Dees on Saturday, Melbourne fans can thank the Spargo family, who were all very successful runners, having great finishes in the Stawell gift.

Unfortunately, Charlie suffered a jarred ankle at a Melbourne training session over the weekend, but early indications say he’ll be good to go on Saturday.

Rick’s loving life in San Remo but one thing that drives him mad is the nickname he’s been given by a few former Phillip Island players.

“They still call me ‘dud’ because I went down there after I finished at Footscray, and my shoulder was still no good, so I couldn’t perform.

“They still won’t let me live it down.”

But maybe if Charlie wins on Saturday, he can ask his rascal mates how many premierships their nephews have played in.