Brian Friend: A friend in 'deed'
Once retired, you would rarely see someone pulling up their socks, tying the laces on their footy boots, putting on their green and gold jersey and shorts, and travelling internationally to play competitive Rugby League.
However, Brian ‘Friendly’ Friend, from the Northern Beaches, has other ideas. What’s more surprising is that he has just turned 77, and he’ll be “out there doing battle” again, on the weekend.
At the turn of the century, after serving 32 years with the NSW Police Force, 30 of which were on the water, it was expected that retirement would see Friendly hang up his Police badge, his Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct medal, Centenary medal, three Commissioner’s Commendations, Pittwater Citizen of the Year award, along with his worn-out footy boots and jerseys. He was expected to do what most retirees do at 57, sit back and finally relax with his wife Robyn, having both had fulfilling careers. Yet, ‘relaxation’ wasn’t on their minds, ‘people’ were, and based on how they go about life nowadays, ‘people’ still are.
When Friendly was only nine years of age, he began playing footy in the black and white for the ‘Narrabeen Sharks’, the same team he would continue to play for into his seventies. He felt special, since he was able to wear the same colours as the Western Suburbs Magpies, the team he supported in the NRL. Friendly says, with a cheeky laugh, “Rugby League is the most fun you can have with your pants on.”
Both rugby league and serving in the police, have helped to bring forth his passion for ‘giving back’. Friendly has dedicated his time towards helping grassroots footy with the Avalon Bulldogs, and has coached and helped mentor 630 junior players, including Sam Verills from the Sydney Roosters, and Adam Cuthbertson who played for Manly, Cronulla, St. George, Newcastle and Leeds, and now represents York City Knights, and has also coached the Women's team for Leeds Rhinos to three premierships.
During the 60s, Friendly was coached by Australian and State representative player and rugby league royalty, Noel Kelly and fellow Western Suburbs Magpie, tough prop-forward Denis Meaney. Friendly said, “Noel Kelly coached us for a couple of years. We won a premiership under Noel, and in the black and white.”
When he is not in his backyard, feeding the magpies that he has trained, he is focused on helping people and volunteering his time. Even during moments that are catered towards having a rest, Friendly still works out ways that he can assist his local community on the Northern Beaches. When he isn’t playing footy, driving boats, or walking the daily three-kilometre trip to the top of Barrenjoey Lighthouse, Friendly can be found raising money for charities or refereeing a local footy game.
He realised that if anything happened to him when he was serving in the Police Force, the ‘Police Legacy’ would support and look after his family. Knowing this, he wanted to give back and founded the ‘Police Legacy Golf Day’, raising $56,000 for service men, women and families. Then, through a mate, Friendly assisted with ‘000’ Touch Football, which combined the Fire Brigade, Police, and Ambulance units in a fun competition, and helped to raise $285,000 for the Burns Unit, and Camperdown, Westmead and Gosford hospitals.
His determination was demonstrated during the Sydney Olympic Games torch relay, when he walked the Forestville section through a sea of Australian flags, yet, oddly with a sock on his right foot and a shoe on his left. Days early, he had sliced his foot open at work and required stitches, which meant that he couldn’t put a shoe on.
Robyn asked, “How are you going to do the relay?”
Friendly replied, “I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it”, and he did.
Over the last 15 years, Friendly has represented Australia as both a player and a referee in the ‘Masters of Rugby League’ tournament. The competition is catered to people 35 years and older, who still want to continue their involvement in playing rugby league, but in both a safe and enjoyable way. The rules have also been modified to protect players from injury, and a coloured spectrum of footy shorts are used to explain who can and cannot be tackled.
The colour of a player’s shorts determines the age group you are playing in. 35-39-year old’s wear white shorts, and 40-49-year old’s wear black shorts, both of which can be tackled “full on”. 50-59-year old’s wear red shorts, and a tackle can either be a two-handed grab or if you want to tackle you state that at the start of the game. 60-69-year old’s wear gold shorts, 70+ wear green shorts, and 80+ wear light blue shorts, all of which have tags to pull, and a touch can signify a tackle has been made.
Due to the format of Masters of Rugby League, Friendly has had the pleasure of playing footy alongside his three sons. He says, with a laugh, “I had Christopher, Carl, and Ryan. And, I didn’t like their names. Robyn called them that. So, I call them Charlie, Harry, and Jack. Now the eldest bloke, all his friends call him Kong, for some reason. The middle bloke’s called Fez, short for ferret. And the young bloke’s still got Jack, and all his footy trophies say ‘Jack’.”
Robyn and Friendly have also worked alongside Sunnyfield disAbility Services to foster four fabulous children that are diagnosed with Down Syndrome: Ben, Anna, Eva and Matthew. “Ben, he was 5 when we first met him, now he is well into his 30’s”, says Friendly. Over a period of twenty years, the Friend’s provided everlasting memories and Christmas joy to these children, who are now part of the family. The four foster children helped teach unconditional love, respect, and compassion; a true blessing. A framed photo of them sits on Robyn’s desk, where she tutors high school students in English and Maths.
Today, Friendly is sitting outside, his polo has a shield with a caricature of a man holding a football, wearing a red jersey with white V. Instead of a young, muscle-filled football player, it’s a man with a beer gut and a face that holds a hefty, white moustache. Curiously, like the current wearer of the polo. Friendly recalls, “They said it was made after my face. They needed a thing up there, so they did an image of me.” Sometimes the logo doesn’t include the football, but rather a schooner of beer, yet, always with a smiling, ‘friendly’ face.
His ‘hefty, moustache’ has been donned since the 70’s, however, whilst it has stayed unchanged since those days, it has shifted its tone into a bright and bushy white. His wife Robyn describes him as a “walrus”. The challenge came when Robyn asked if he would shave it off for the World’s Greatest Shave to raise awareness and money for Leukaemia.
“No way, no way”, Friendly replied, since the moustache had been with him for half a century. The grandkids visited the next day and said, “Come on, come on, it’s to raise money.” Friendly said, “Ok, as long as you help to cut it off”. The ‘Mo to Go’ campaign was born.
On the day of the ‘World’s Greatest Shave’, his grandchildren arrived with sheep shears and a garden lopper, prepared to remove his mo. Friendly sat in front of the Avalon Recreation Centre, alongside two boys who were shaving their hair, and in view of the local network’s film crew. Recalling the memory, Robyn said that, “If we were able to get to $5000, it would have been brilliant”, but, “We got to $15,000…for a moustache!”
Today, Friendly’s moustache has regrown and don’s his upper lip; pride of place. In this brief moment of relaxation, he holds a coffee mug in his hand, inscribed with the motto for the Retired & Former Police Association of NSW: ‘Friendship. Welfare. Fellowship’. Similar pillars that the Men of League Foundation aims to uphold through: ‘Mateship. Wellbeing. Camaraderie’. Pillars that they demonstrate during their visits and calls with the men, women and children of Rugby League.
Friendly has dedicated his life to the protection and preservation of people in both Rugby League and in his community. This unwavering compassion to ‘give back’ has seen him earn an ‘Order of Australia Medal.’
However, Friendly doesn’t let his achievements go to his head. He doesn’t think that what he does is anything unique, and he shows his humility by suggesting, “There are many other people you could be writing about” and "you've turned a simple story into a fairytale, mate".
Brian ‘Friendly’ Friend OAM says, “That’s a bloody good system, the Men of League Foundation. To look after the people that are down and out. I love what it’s all about. It’s about looking after people who LOVE rugby league. And as it says there, it’s for people that have never played rugby league, or never played Grade rugby league, or anything like that. But they are part of the rugby league community. They don’t just look after the big-name players.”