Superman, everyman: Cricket greats honour their mate Roy
Family, friends and a who's who of cricket descended on Riverway Stadium in Townsville to celebrate the life of Andrew Symonds; their mate, father, son and Australian legend
Adam Burnett in Townsville
27 May 2022, 04:14 PM AEST
Those who were close to him reckon, had he had the choice, Andrew Symonds would've likely skipped all this hoopla and gone fishing.
Later, he'd have felt the urge to join proceedings, unwilling to let the chance to share some ales and tales with old mates – in his hometown, no less – pass him by. He might've even settled in 'til stumps, a raised eyebrow and a wry enquiry questioning his allies when they dared to head off in the small hours: 'What, you not having fun?'
But all of this – the outpouring of emotion, and the tears and the tributes – it might've best been skipped. Such things sat a little uneasily with Symonds through his playing career, and it stayed the case until the very end.
And today, on a perfect blue-sky autumn day in Townsville, as the cricket world turned its attention to one man, as a who’s who of our sport descended on Riverway Stadium for a couple of beautiful memorials, both private and public, it wasn't difficult to imagine that as being exactly where he was – some faraway uncharted fishing spot, where the barra had been biting since dawn.
"The amount of fishing trips that I knocked back because we all got too busy," recalled his close mate Matthew Mott, "you'd just love the opportunity to go back out there and do that again with him. He's going to be missed a lot."
Undoubtedly Mott spoke for dozens of Symonds' mates. It was mid-morning when they began pouring in, a list of cricketing luminaries filing off a bus the first to arrive: Ponting, Gilchrist, Border, Healy, Lehmann, Watson, Harris and Hogg among them.
A few minutes later, in came Brett Lee, and then, wandering across the neighbouring footy oval in fits and starts across the next half hour came Glenn McGrath, Mitchell Johnson, Mark Waugh, Brad Haddin, Jason Gillespie, Stuart MacGill, Joe Dawes, Michael Kasprowicz and Wade Seccombe. Last to arrive among the cricketing royalty was the Prince himself, Brian Charles Lara, while Queensland rugby league legends Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis also made their way through the entrance to Riverbank, the venue that Symonds had so proudly seen opened in his backyard almost a decade earlier.
Gilchrist later recounted how Symonds' mum, Barb, had left "not a dry eye in the house" in regaling the private audience with stories from Andrew's childhood, offering in the process an insight into the man they had previously not been privy to.
Jimmy Maher, who like Mott had been thick with Symonds since they had met at a schoolboys carnival in their teens, directly addressed his dear old mate's children, Chloe and Billy, in what Gilchrist described as "one of the most beautiful eulogies you could ever imagine" that put an exclamation point on the magnitude of this loss.
"He looked the kids in the eye and delivered a message of what he thought Roy would want him to say," Gilchrist said. "It was really touching, really moving."
Matthew Hayden couldn't be present but his wife Kelly and daughter Gracie represented their family, and Hayden himself sent via video a song he penned and performed for his fellow Queenslander, the man with whom he shared on-field achievements and off-field misadventures that are both firmly entrenched in Australian legend.
As the private ceremony came to a close and guests retreated into the grandstand for the wake, the queue awaiting the public tribute was already beginning to snake its way around the perimeter of the venue. They trickled in across the next couple of hours, slowly at first and then more steadily, most from around town and some from as far afield as Brisbane and beyond.
"He was obviously a great mate of mine but I think everyone felt like they knew Simmo," said Mott. "I think that's why there's so much public outpouring (of emotion)."
And so they came to honour their mate Roy, a superman and an everyman at once. This English-born, Queensland-reared cricketing pioneer. A man who everyone wanted a piece of, but who revelled instead in solitude and close company. A husband and father, son and brother. And a teammate, of course, and it was a number of those men – Ponting, Gilchrist, Lehmann and Healy – who brought some levity to proceedings when they jumped on stage and shared their memories to the world of the man they viewed universally as their first picked in any side.
The tributes ended with a brilliantly crafted piece from renowned poet Rupert McCall, one Symonds himself had taken a liking to and had, McCall revealed, occasionally phoned the lyricist late at night with a recite request to he and his mates after a few beers.
Mott heads off to England next week to begin a new coaching adventure, one he knows for which Symonds would've offered him ribbings and encouragement in equal measure. He takes with him part of Symonds, in both a professional and personal sense.
"He's a prototype for the modern-day player, where you've got to free them up and let them play," Mott told cricket.com.au this week. "They're gonna make some mistakes, but they're gonna win you matches as well.
"So when I think about coaching, I think about how I'd coach Simmo a lot … not put too many restraints around him, and not to put too many shackles on him. I think that's really the legacy he's left for me.
"But also that sense of, when it's time to work hard, you work bloody hard. And when it's time to relax and spend time with family and friends, you need to do that as well."
Which is what those close to him have done in his honour. Healy, who was a senior teammate of Symonds' at the Bulls and who expertly hosted this public tribute, offered a thought early in the piece that rung true throughout.
"None of us are quite sure whether Roy would've liked this or not," he mused. "He didn't rate pomp or ceremony."
Perhaps, after all is said and done, he'd have made an exception today.