1956 Socceroo Ted Smith generously offered us his recollections of his captain and friend, Bobby Bignall who died on 11 August 2013 at the age of 91.
I am privileged to pass on my recollections of My Captain whose contribution to Football in Australia was unmatched, particularly on the South Coast of New South Wales over many years.
Most of you will have heard of his all-round Sporting ability over many Sports, including Football, Rugby League, Cricket, Tennis and later Bowls, when in that era it was possible to take part in the various Football codes without censure.
He was very fast in his Youth and took great pleasure in letting you know this, but it was accompanied by a laugh and the twinkle in his eye, meant that you took it as read, and there would be those here who can attest to this.
My first contact with Bobby was in 1956 when we were direct opponents in one of the trial matches where an Australian squad was selected to play the various State teams and I was in the Victorian team directly opposed to Bobby.
When I was ill with the Flue for the Second game, I was then taken to Sydney & played for NSW against the Australian Select and yes against Bobby again. The following day in Newcastle I played under Bobby against Northern NSW.
In the meantime Bobby had told My Club teammate Frank Loughran, a regular Socceroo, to pass on his good wishes and “Play the same way in subsequent trials” which for a 20-year-old was enormous encouragement from the Captain and regular Socceroo.
This encouragement continued when we were team mates at the 1956 Olympics – the first major World Football tournament we took part in, and the 6 weeks in the Olympic Village representing Football, which was a minor Sport then, as part of the team was a wonderful experience thanks to Bobby .
There was very little publicity of our matches and one of the few Photos, includes one of our Bobby in a classic Heading duel.
Although our disappointing exit against India – hit hard, Bobby’s main comments were that we missed an opportunity to reach a semi- final that would have given our game a big lift. There was no recriminations, just disappointment.
Bobby has always supported the advancements of Football in Australia and in particular the great years when South Coast under Jim Kelly were so successful, and he was hopeful that there are some signs that in the next few years that ‘The Illawarra” would again be part of the Football hierarchy.
The 1956 team met again at the draw for the 2000 Olympic Football tournament and we saw Bobby with his Twinkling eyes and laughter coming to the fore when interviewed by Jane Holmes, and it was difficult to be sure who was interviewing who !
Our next contact was when Bobby was invited to attend a Socceroo match in Melbourne and gave me a call so we could catch up! He came in casual clothes and as He was invited to the inner sanctum so I arranged to lend him something more formal. He was unperturbed.
Bobby came again in 2006 to Melbourne for the 50 year reunion and at the Melbourne Town Hall reception and later formal Dinner next day, he worked the room and had all in the palm of his hand.
We later caught up at various Socceroo Club functions and it was always cheerful even when he wasn’t 100% following his Accident, and it was pleasing that He showed great improvement Health wise in later years.
He in later years continued to care for His wife who was unwell for a long period of time and we are thankful when His time came, at 91 he was ready to go.
I am pleased to share the have many great memories of Bobby who as a mentor when I was starting out helped me, and He also did for many others.
The example is of throwing a pebble in a pool – the rings keep going out, and out, continuously as those he helped – helped others, to appreciate the values and to take part in the strengthening of our Game.
He never queried the evolution of Football in Australia, or the benefits now available to our Players, but was comfortable with His Role as one of the later pioneers of our game and pleased to see the improved standard of play and support.
I honor his contribution and thankful that he continued to be a fantastic mate who was always the same each time you caught up, and leaves us all with a smile and memories of those twinkling eyes.
So my thoughts are with His extended Family, and all the friends who are here to acknowledge his contributions and Friendship and am sorry that I can’t be here today to join you all, but will be in spirit.