Dependancy nearly killed AFL star Rod Owen, however he was hiding the agony of abuse

Addiction almost killed AFL star Rod Owen, but he was hiding the agony of abuse

As night approached on October 21, 2018, an emaciated, sickly man with hole eyes and an agitated method staggered alongside Bay Avenue in Port Melbourne, limping and muttering, scattering startled passers-by.

May it actually be him? The once-great AFL footballer? Was it actually Rod Owen?

Occasions had been robust, certain, however everybody nonetheless knew the face and the identify. In a bayside city of wharfies, sellers and toughs, he might out-drink and out-brawl all of them. They knew him as “Rocket”, the proper nickname for a human missile.

On good days, Owen might conceal his issues and stick with it like the whole lot was nice. However this was not a superb day. He was unemployed, disorientated and indignant. Those that nonetheless cared about him feared the top was shut.

For 36 years he’d been a gambler, a fighter and an addict: alcohol, amphetamines, marijuana, cocaine, morphine, Endone.

Rod Owen was hooked on medication and alcohol for 36 years. Some days he might conceal his ache, on different days he couldn’t.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


This time it was OxyContin.

Owen was taking as a lot as he might get his fingers on. Medical doctors thought it could assist along with his damaged physique — his hip and decrease again have been the most recent to go. As a substitute it scattered his thoughts. He endlessly replayed his darkest recollections, succumbing additional to the self-destructive life-style he discovered not possible to flee.

Did the passers-by know he’d taken each tablet within the container? Had been they taking a look at his swollen, deformed knuckles for indicators of recent blood? May they think about the fist-shaped indentations within the wall of his tiny rented house? Did they know he’d lately tried to take his personal life once more? Had any of them seen him unravelling on the MCG a couple of nights earlier?

Owen solely remembers that he was off his head once more and letting individuals down. Again then, he’d say so in tearful, self-lacerating tirades: “I do know I am insane … I do know I am on one other planet … I do know you are sick of me …”

So there he was on one other misplaced afternoon, feeling extra determined and disturbed and other-planetary than ever earlier than. Solely now he stood on the point of complete disaster, pacing round city with a knife down his pants.

However he hadn’t counted on the determine approaching him from behind.

Warning: This story accommodates particulars of kid sexual abuse which can disturb some readers, in addition to references to suicide.

‘He has the power to be a devastating participant’

The traumatic secrets and techniques Rod Owen spent 5 a long time working from might be discovered inside a shabby, beaten-up briefcase that has adopted him from city to city, state to state, by way of 38 years of fame, partying, dependancy, sickness and despair.

The briefcase is insignificant to the bare eye, made from leather-look plastic in mission brown, with a stained cardboard inside. Its best qualities are its undesirability to a thief and its indestructibility. Within the Seventies, it belonged to Graeme Owen, Rod’s father, the person of whom he has stated: “When he died, I died too.”

Rod Owen sits on a blue park bench with a brown briefcase on his lap.
The contents of a battered briefcase is all Rod Owen has to point out for his decade-long profession within the AFL.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


One wonders what Graeme would make of its contents now. His two nice loves have been his household and the St Kilda Soccer Membership, so it is stuffed with causes for cheer — medals and newspaper clippings which verify his wildest dream, which he died two months wanting seeing for himself: his boy actually did turn out to be a Saint.

There are additionally clues from which he would piece collectively a lifetime of quiet desperation: paltry earnings statements; pub loyalty playing cards; grotesque X-rays; stained enterprise playing cards from legal professionals and bodily therapists; scraps of paper with unfulfilled guarantees of jobs; an expired licence to carry out “excessive danger work”; a certificates of completion for a drink driver schooling program; character references from a legal trial; an AFL Gamers’ Affiliation membership card; letters to and from jail.

Most arresting is a pair of black and white pictures taken a fraction of a second aside at Arden Avenue Oval on March 26, 1983, when St Kilda performed North Melbourne within the first spherical of the VFL season: Rod Owen’s league debut.

An Australian rules player jumps for a mark, the ball at his fingertips.
Rod Owen grew to become the eleventh youngest participant in league historical past when he debuted for St Kilda within the 1983 VFL season.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


It’s onerous to not be swept up within the aesthetic purity and apparent symbolism of the primary {photograph}. Owen leaps for a mark with feline grace. The ball, because it might need been painted by a grasp of the Renaissance, hovers completely at his fingertips.

Likewise, he’s depicted on the cusp of the life he is been promised: fame, fortune and soccer success are inside his grasp. A day earlier, Herald soccer author Peter Stone had spoken to St Kilda coach Tony Jewell and written:

Within the second {photograph}, Owen descends to earth, an opponent lamenting being crushed by his man. However the man just isn’t a person. He’s a fragile boy. Owen is 2 months previous his sixteenth birthday. He is the eleventh youngest participant in league historical past. No participant will ever seem at such a younger age once more, for causes that turn out to be apparent when Owen begins speaking about his life.

Two men return to the ground after jumping for a mark in a VFL game.
Returning to earth after out-positioning North Melbourne opponent Brad Nimmo, Rod Owen would kick three targets on his league debut.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


‘When are you going to play bloody footy once more?’

If you recognize a tough define of Rod Owen’s soccer profession, it in all probability goes one thing like this: he was a better expertise than Tony Lockett, the Saints nice who debuted in the identical 12 months. However what wasn’t destroyed by Owen’s grotesque knee and ankle accidents was squandered to a life-style of onerous partying.

His profession of 78 video games and 143 targets was over by the point he was 25.

The 50th game banner made for Rod Owen in 1989 says 'a tribute to two true champions, Rod 'Rocket' Owen and Nicky 'Cuz' Winmar.
Rod Owen’s accidents meant St Kilda performed 154 video games within the time it took him to succeed in his 50-game milestone, which was in spherical 9 of the 1989 season.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


The accidents, from which Owen nonetheless experiences breathless ache, collected nearly instantly. He’d performed solely 9 video games when he tore his proper Achilles ligaments, lacking the remainder of 1983. Quickly after his seventeenth birthday, he sunk to the Moorabbin mud with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, lacking two full seasons.

St Kilda’s official publication of the time admitted: “There are some sports activities drugs consultants who consider that teenage bone buildings usually are not sufficiently developed to deal with bodily contact sports activities at grownup degree.”

Owen was by no means the identical participant. A champion excessive jumper in school, his early league video games have been characterised by hovering leaps throughout and over packs. Robbed of the spring in his step, he by no means repaired his shattered confidence.

A man with a cast up to his knee prepares to handball a Sherrin football.
Rod Owen suffered one other main setback when he broke his ankle through the pre-season in 1988.(



“If it wasn’t for him doing his knee he would have been a nightmare for everybody else,” Jewell stated in a historical past of St Kilda.

Drunks on the Moorabbin terraces taunted him: “Hey Owen, when are you going to play bloody footy once more?” Then the membership’s tradition devoured him.

St Kilda was then essentially the most penurious of the VFL’s dozen golf equipment. Owen remembers a teammate arriving at coaching and asking: “Have we nonetheless bought a membership?” What it infamously did have was a wild Friday night time — a $15-for-all-you-can-drink disco, the place gamers frittered away cash they hardly had.

In 1991, after he was traded to Melbourne after eight seasons with the Saints, Owen conceded to a journalist that the nightlife had taken a toll:

A few of Owen’s scrapes appeared extra like myths. By 23, he’d accrued a $150,000 playing debt — 10 occasions his annual wage for many of his profession. His four-day ingesting periods would start on Friday afternoon on the Beaumaris Resort, transfer to the Saints Disco, energy by way of Sunday periods the membership promoted to members (“All gamers in attendance”), and stick with it into Monday.

A man in a St Kilda jersey looks at the camera and smiles.
By the top of the 1986 VFL season, his fourth as a senior participant, Rod Owen had managed simply 19 video games as a result of extreme knee and ankle accidents and a complete lack of confidence.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Newspapers advised of his notorious 63-day bender. A teammate recalled the morning he discovered Owen mendacity unconscious and bloodied in a gutter outdoors the Portsea pub. For Rod Owen, again then, it was nothing uncommon.

It earned him a status because the VFL’s reply to George Greatest, a model of historical past that has all the time suited soccer, as a result of it made Owen his personal worst enemy, whereas onlookers have been powerless to guard him from himself.

The fact was one thing nearer to an endless act of self-harm. Owen would drink and drug himself into oblivion. He remembers countless brawling with bouncers, 20 damaged noses, court docket circumstances, and drunkenly driving at 150 kilometres per hour down the Nepean Freeway.

When he woke from his teenage binges, Owen would expertise the suicidal crises no one noticed on the dance ground.

“I did not care if I lived or died,” he says.

“I might stroll down the road and need I wasn’t right here.”

Three men in St Kilda jerseys put their arms around one another.
It wasn’t till Rod Owen’s fourth season of league soccer that he performed in a successful staff for the lowly Saints, so victories have been savoured. Right here he (left) enjoys a late-Nineteen Eighties win with teammates Spiro Kourkoumelis and Nicky Winmar.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


One story that is not advised so typically occurred after a apply match loss in Perth, in 1986, when a ingesting session bought out of hand. Ultimately, Owen misplaced consciousness in a lodge backyard mattress, by no means making it again to his room. Roused the subsequent morning, he walked straight to a close-by pub and resumed ingesting.

Some current bear in mind an change that night time, when the late Invoice Stephen, a kindly newcomer, requested the intoxicated Owen if he’d like to speak about his father or anything troubling him. Blind drunk, Owen threatened to smash a glass in Stephen’s face.

Owen remembers it too.

“I get embarrassed speaking about it,” he says.

When he thinks of the Saints Disco now, he remembers his first drunken courtship of younger ladies, when he’d unravel and ask himself a heartbreaking query: “Am I regular?”

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In an ABC Information story from 1988, Rod Owen stars in a recreation for St Kilda.(ABC Information)

‘She put up with an terrible lot’

Household and lifelong buddies of Rod Owen will let you know many tales of his kindness, sincerity and depth of character. Mick Hamilton, the Noosa boxing coach who pulled Owen by way of his darkest hours, summarises him: “Good bloke. Nice mate. Loyal. Bloody loyal.”

Andy Simon, who met Owen throughout his one-year stint at Melbourne and cast a lifelong friendship, says: “Each time I converse to Rocket, he tells me he loves me, and I inform him I like him too. We’re household.”

Additionally they inform a far much less flattering story: Rod was a totally completely different particular person when he was drunk, excessive or overwhelmed by psychological well being breakdowns — indignant, self-destructive, heading for early demise — and Susan and the ladies went by way of hell in consequence.

Susan was Rod’s accomplice from 1998 till 2015. To determine her as merely a mom, or the accomplice of a footballer, would misrepresent her self-image and achievements. She is a fixture of the Port Melbourne hospitality world, and sometimes labored three jobs at a time to carry her household collectively.

“She put up with an terrible lot,” Rod’s mom Adrienne says.

The women are Layla, 21, and Zoe, 18, clever past their years. They love their dad however weathered the disappointments and teenage embarrassments that got here with Rod’s addictions.

Layla, principled and wise, noticed and understood all of it, inheriting Rod’s fierce loyalty and self-critical tendencies. Zoe appears and acts a lot like Rod that buddies name her “Little Rocket”. Rod’s life has made her focus completely on his and everybody else’s constructive character traits.

Rod was 5 years out of the AFL when he and Susan bought collectively. They’d labored collectively at Port Melbourne’s Railway Resort, owned then by Rod’s brother Chris. Susan had seen Rod at his worst, however invested within the plentiful qualities that shone in his intervals of sobriety.

Requested for Rod’s strengths, Susan says: “Every part. He is very loyal, regardless that he can allow you to down. You have been all the time protected. He is humorous. He is excellent firm. He is very intelligent — lots smarter than individuals suppose. He might discuss with anybody about something.”

A man lays next to a newborn baby girl on a hospital bed.
By the point of his daughter Layla’s delivery in 1999, Rod was awaiting the trial that will lead to a nine-month jail time period.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


However after selecting up the items for nearly 20 years, she will’t deny the chaos. She remembers midnight journeys to the ATM to intercept pay cheques that might be gone in hours, the damaged guarantees and the four-day benders that would depart her fending for herself. There was Rod’s jail stretch. There was the frustration as he transitioned from footballer to concreter, swapping one alcohol-soaked job for an additional.

Two significantly dangerous moments stick out.

Primary: unconscious from one other bender, he missed Zoe’s christening.

Quantity two: his binge following Zoe’s delivery. Carrying her two-year-old and new child by way of a pharmacy, Susan needed to return very important provides to the cabinets when all her playing cards declined. It could occur repeatedly in supermarkets, indignities she is going to always remember.

A man sits in a plastic outdoor chair and suns himself next to a swimming pool.
The Owen household’s relocation to Noosa was going to be the transfer that modified their lives, however Rod’s concreting work slowly vanished and his addictions grew to become not possible to handle.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Hardest was the transfer to Noosa, the place the household lived between 2004 and 2011. It was going to be utopia. Rod might escape dangerous influences, restore his soul and trip waves in solitude. As a substitute, concreting work vanished and he spiralled additional into his addictions. “Melbourne got here with him,” a buddy says.

Of these years, Zoe fondly remembers mendacity on Rod’s chest — not only for the sensation of safety and heat it gave her, however its symbolism of the calm and pleased occasions when her dad wasn’t ingesting and drugging himself into despondent rage.

A man holds out a television remote while laying on a couch and two little girls hug him.
On the top of Rod’s addictions, daughters Layla and Zoe discovered the one time he was approachable was when he was crashed out after a multi-day bender.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


That little bit older, fretful and painfully observant, Layla remembers extra of the latter, and her realisation as an eight-year-old houseguest of different households that her buddies’ fathers did not tearfully rip their shirts in half, headbutt poles, or promote gadgets from the again shed for playing cash.

“I might get to a stage the place I might lie there — and that is an terrible, callous factor to suppose — however I believed if the police knocked on the door and stated he was useless, it could be a aid,” Susan says.

“And that’s so dangerous, as a result of I cherished Rod. However I believed, ‘At the least I might say to my youngsters that one thing occurred to Daddy in an accident’, somewhat than the likelihood that he’d had a drug overdose or finished one thing silly and harm himself.”

When Susan reached her restrict, no-one blamed her. As early as age 10, Layla had begged her to go away Rod. “You do not perceive,” Zoe would say. “He is bought a illness! He is bought an sickness!'”

A man sits on the couch in his pyjamas and looks to a television.
Rod would later admit that the transfer to Noosa was a egocentric imposition on the remainder of the household.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


“I in all probability hung in there for Zoe,” Susan says.

“I believed it could have an effect on her an excessive amount of. She could not see something fallacious, whereas Layla would say, ‘Every part he does is fallacious.'”

It nonetheless makes Susan unhappy to think about Rod’s addictions — not simply what they did to the household, however what they stated about his life earlier than they met.

“For Rod, it was all the time about escapism,” she says. “He’d say, ‘I do not even like beer, I similar to to be numb.'”

And she or he knew exactly why he needed to be numb.

‘It was simply full and utter lies’

While you ask Rod Owen’s teammates and coaches the place all of it went fallacious, you typically hear that he by no means recovered from his father’s demise. Rod does not dispute this. The youngest of three, he was coddled by Adrienne as a toddler. By his main college years, he clung to Graeme’s facet.

“Guys like Rocket suppose their fathers are immortal,” Owen’s buddy Andy Simon says.

No guardian’s demise is straightforward for a kid to bear, however for Rod the lack of his father was emotionally disabling. The sudden absence of steerage was one factor, Owen’s want to stay out the soccer dream he shared with Saints fanatic Graeme fairly one other.

A father and son sit next to each other on a couch.
Rod was solely 15 when his father Graeme died.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


St Kilda’s motto is ‘Fortius Quo Fidelius’ — Power By way of Loyalty. Rod did not simply inherit his father’s love of a staff, it grew to become a central side of his identification and his connection to his father. It is why, to at the present time, he says: “I nonetheless assist the colors, simply not the individuals.”

And it is why the behaviour of St Kilda directors in 1982 and 1983 has marked his life so drastically.

In December, 1982, Rod was 15 years previous, Graeme gravely sick with most cancers. The household agreed on one factor: Rod would end his education at Mentone Grammar earlier than senior soccer was thought of. They made it clear to St Kilda powerbrokers Ian Stewart and Ian Drake, the latter of whom was answerable for the membership’s junior growth program.

A 1982 newspaper clipping of a photograph of an Australian rules development squad.
Rod Owen (far proper, again row) was the primary graduate of St Kilda’s Junior Improvement Program, pictured right here with membership powerbrokers.(

Equipped: Moorabbin Chief


Graeme was actually on his deathbed when St Kilda commenced its recruitment marketing campaign, as suggestible as a father might be. When St Kilda granted his dying want to see Rod prepare with the seniors, it grew to become clear {that a} main expertise was blooming.

Adrienne, alternatively, was a Queenslander who despised soccer. The season earlier than, she watched a Geelong under-19s opponent king-hit Rod, knocking him unconscious and shattering his jaw; coaches feared he was useless. Adrienne paints a vivid scene of St Kilda’s wooing:

Contacted by the ABC this week, Ian Stewart denied that Rod was pressured to go away college.

Graeme died on January 4, 1983, 4 weeks earlier than Rod’s sixteenth birthday. Rod remembers two points of his father’s funeral with a readability that also makes his voice tremble and break.

The primary is that the majority current sat in stony silence as he emotionally unravelled, his uncontrolled sobbing and heaving chest drawing the eye of the room. The second is {that a} St Kilda contingent, together with Drake and Stewart, sat quietly in the back of the room.

A teenage boy wearing a St Kilda jersey looks at the camera with his arms folded.
Child-faced and stricken with grief on the lack of his father, Rod Owen had solely simply turned 16 when he signed an expert contract with St Kilda and had his first membership portrait taken.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


On a Saturday morning in mid-March, Rod advised Adrienne he was off to the nation with some mates. As a substitute he boarded a 30-person plane, flew to the Victorian nation city of Heywood and catapulted himself into league soccer. It was a VFL seniors apply match, St Kilda vs Collingwood. The unknown teenager ran onto the bottom on the finish of the primary quarter, sized up Billy Picken — one of the crucial sensible defenders within the league — and kicked seven astonishing targets.

Owen summarises the aftermath: “Life modified as quickly as I might reached the dressing rooms. Gamers who did not need to know or discuss to me beforehand have been throwing me beers. Individuals needed to take me out that night time. My head was spinning.”

A $30,000 contract was positioned in entrance of Owen. He signed it, lined up at Arden Avenue the subsequent weekend and stop college for good, ignoring the Mentone headmaster’s prophetic phrases: “You will remorse at the present time for the remainder of your life.”

Greater than 20 years in the past, in proof tendered to court docket, Adrienne recalled the interval:

Stewart has since conceded some culpability.

“I might say the membership, myself included, let Rod down,” Stewart admitted to the Herald Solar in 2000.

Talking to the ABC this week, Stewart stated he was on the membership for less than 18 months and was answerable for 70 to 80 gamers throughout that point. The membership was working below monetary administration, and on a shoestring price range.

“A variety of proficient gamers would have slipped by way of the net as a result of they weren’t given assist,” Stewart says.

Some time again, Rod tapped out a abstract of his first weeks at St Kilda: “I used to be craving to discover a father determine after the previous man died, and to put on the crimson, white and black, the staff we might grown up loving. It is what I believed would save me from my ache.”

A football player holds the ball to his chest after catching it.
Having proven such excellent promise early in his profession, Rod Owen struggled to stay as much as the soccer world’s expectations.(

Equipped: Wayne Ludbey


It ties in with an account of the Heywood recreation he wrote in 2000, shortly earlier than he was handcuffed in entrance of his tearful mom and led away to a jail cell:

In reality, the difficulty had began lengthy earlier than.

‘He did it to everybody’

St Kilda individuals who really feel responsible about Rod Owen’s careening journey by way of life are inclined to console themselves by pointing to uncontrollable components. Who knew {that a} son’s grief might be so profound? What might have been finished in another way with such meagre assets, and by whom?

Maybe they may have requested a couple of extra pertinent questions. Like what was actually fuelling Owen’s reckless life-style? And what was the true supply of his anti-authoritarian rage?

When Rod discusses the primary eight years of his childhood, it’s not possible to not be struck by the frequency and vehemence of his use of the phrase “regular”.

A young boy has his head turned slightly and smiles.
Because the youngest of three boys, Rod Owen skilled an idyllic early childhood within the Melbourne bayside suburb of Beaumaris.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


The Owens have been a “regular household”, he says. Adrienne and Graeme blessed him with a “regular upbringing”. Rod’s extracurricular actions, like enjoying the drums, have been “regular issues”. Summarising these occasions, he says: “I used to be only a regular child.”

However what occurred to Rod Owen and untold numbers of kids at Beaumaris Major College within the Sixties and 70s was nothing near regular. In 1976, when he was 9 years previous, Rod was preyed upon and sexually molested by the varsity’s librarian and sports activities coach, Darrell Ray.

A young boy looks at the camera.
Rod Owen was in a contented and playful mind-set at the start of Beaumaris Major’s 1976 college photograph day, however his temper would darken because the afternoon progressed.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


“In grade 4,” Rod says, “the whole lot modified ceaselessly.”

It was the varsity’s yearbook photograph day — a time to snap portraits to be displayed on grandparents’ mantelpieces. There would even be class photographs and Rod’s favourites: sporting staff photographs. As a junior member of Beaumaris Major’s swimming, cricket and soccer groups, Rod had a busy day.

His temper might be traced by way of the sequence of frames in his childhood photograph album. Within the portrait, the mop coiffure of the period covers his ears. His mouth is closed, however his grin real.

When 4W college students line up for his or her class shot, Rod’s clowning round on the again, and far the identical among the many swimming staff.

Within the A-grade cricket staff coached by Darrell Ray, Rod and others look to the precise of the body, distracted by the kind of fleeting second that fades rapidly from the reminiscence. What Rod will always remember is the sensation of revulsion and worry that adopted, and the visions it nonetheless provides him.

A photo of Rod Owen and the 1976 Beaumaris Primary cricket team.
The 1976 college photograph day was a contented one for nine-year-old Rod Owen, till the aftermath of this cricket staff {photograph}.(



As Rod modified from his cricket whites to his footy gear to be photographed with Beaumaris Major’s premiership-winning staff, Ray approached silently from behind and started molesting him.

The picture taken moments later conveys his discomfort. “I did not need to get within the photograph,” Rod says.

“I used to be shocked. He got here as much as me and stated ‘Get within the photograph now and shut up,’ aggressively. I needed to sit subsequent to him. I bear in mind so vividly what occurred …”

Rod Owen sits next to Darrell Ray in a group photograph of the 1976 Beaumaris Primary football team.
Darrell Ray made Rod Owen sit subsequent to him within the soccer staff’s 1976 premiership {photograph}. The moments main as much as the digital camera’s click on would derail the younger sportsman’s life.(



When he appears at it now, Rod notes his vulnerability. The pained expression, he says, is the look of an harmless boy’s whole world crumbling, and foretells 42 years of resentment and anger.

In an influence assertion given a long time later, one other of Ray’s victims spoke of the wicked discount that boys at Beaumaris Major accepted, saying the abuse was the “value he needed to pay” for attending the varsity. One other scholar had advised him that Ray merely “did it to everybody”.

A man poses for a photo with a school cricket team.
Attorneys for victims estimate Darrell Ray might have sexually abused 100 or extra youngsters throughout his time at Beaumaris Major College.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Amongst that 1976 Beaumaris Major College soccer staff was Phil, who requested the ABC to not use his actual identify. He says his life, like these of many different victims, has been tormented by substance abuse, intimacy issues and fractured relationships.

“I might have finished much more with my life,” he says.

“I strive to not beat myself up an excessive amount of about it.”

In 2000, Phil testified within the Melbourne County Courtroom trial during which Ray was discovered responsible of 27 counts of indecently assaulting 19 boys at Moorabbin Major College and Beaumaris Major College between 1967 and 1976 — abuse so frequent and ongoing that many victims engaged in profitable civil litigation towards Beaumaris Major for its negligence.

For Rod, the enduring emotional energy of Ray’s betrayal was twofold: college lecturers, as soon as pillars of his life, grew to become his most despised adversaries; Ray was a ubiquitous presence in Rod’s early footy endeavours, so soccer and abuse grew to become not possible ideas to separate.

A mud-covered 13-year-old boy holds a plaque with names engraved on it.
By the age of 13 Rod Owen had signed a “Kind 4” contract with St Kilda.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Phil explains the latter dynamic: “We have been mad sportsmen, and being your footy and cricket coach, you did not need to do something to upset him.” Phil has a replica of the staff photograph too. Years in the past, he reduce out Darrell Ray’s face.

Within the grip of Ray’s betrayal, Rod acknowledges, he developed a lifelong obsession with violence and retribution. He remembers the howls of concern from spectators who could not stand the sight of him mowing down junior opponents.

“I used to be getting referred to as an animal by dad and mom,” he says.

“They’d say, ‘Bash him!’ I used to be only a brute. I all the time needed to battle.”

However on the finish of 1976, his most alarming acts of violence and retribution have been but to return. For causes unspoken by Beaumaris Major, Darrell Ray was gone. Rod remembers: “I bear in mind youngsters sitting round and asking, ‘What occurred to him?'”

He was not lengthy to search out out.

‘They gave me a sense of invincibility’

By spherical six of his debut VFL season, Rod Owen was an emotional tinderbox. St Kilda would lose by 41 factors to Fitzroy at Moorabbin, one other bitter afternoon in lean occasions. Within the residence staff locker room beforehand, there was a second of further-reaching penalties.

Following an argument along with his mom Adrienne on the Owen residence, Rod’s preparation was a frenzied dash to the bottom. He arrived in a flood of tears. 4 months on from Graeme’s demise, he says he unravelled in entrance of Ian Stewart, his alternative father determine.

A VFL player leaps for a mark in a game at the SCG.
Within the opening phases of the 1983 season, it was clear that Rod Owen was a particular expertise. Right here he flies over Sydney’s Barry Spherical in St Kilda’s spherical 5 conflict towards the Swans on the SCG.(



As a substitute of withdrawing {the teenager} from the line-up, nonetheless, St Kilda officers provided Owen a fistful of tablets they claimed would see him by way of the sport. Certain sufficient, he carried out amazingly nicely for a grief-stricken little one. Amongst these capsules, he says, have been Catovit – pharmaceutical pace, then obtainable over-the-counter.

Ian Stewart advised the ABC he did not see such medication being administered to gamers.

There was no VFL drug code on the time, so such apply was widespread and normalised. A Richmond participant as soon as revealed the unacknowledged ubiquity of pace “bombs”, claiming that half a dozen of his 1980 premiership teammates usually took them. However none of these gamers have been emotionally unstable minors.

“The tablets did not simply calm me down, they gave me a sense of invincibility and superiority,” Rod says.

“To expire the race with the gang screaming was one of the best feeling I might ever skilled in my brief life.

“Solely 38 years later have I discovered that as addicts, we spend the remainder of our lives chasing that first excessive and by no means discovering it. I might been given these medication to beat emotional trauma, nevertheless it supplied a rush, and shortly they grew to become a part of my life. You do not return to your second-best feeling, or your third greatest.

If Adrienne thought the drunken vomiting after Rod’s early under-19s video games was dangerous, the behaviour that grew to become the norm in 1983 would scar the household for many years. Rod found that in addition to pulling him collectively on recreation days, pace allowed him to energy by way of marathon ingesting periods. Afterwards, he’d careen by way of the household residence like a twister, smashing the whole lot in sight.

A man in a St Kilda jersey crosses his arms and smiles.
By the beginning of the 1984 VFL season, Rod Owen’s options had hardened from 12 months of binge ingesting and the beginning of a drug behavior that will ultimately derail his life.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


“As a 16-year-old, the medication simply blew his mind,” Adrienne says.

“He simply fractured the entire household. I rang Ian Stewart at some point and stated, ‘Roderick is below age, he isn’t to exit with these guys.’ He stated, ‘You haven’t any proper to cease him.’ There was completely no steerage. I do not suppose I ever bought over it.”

Ian Stewart advised the ABC it was “absurd” to recommend he condoned such ingesting.

“It is simply not true … I used to be a disciplinarian,” Stewart says. “I would not encourage them (gamers) to drink.”

Requested if he was conscious of the extent of Owen’s ingesting throughout his time on the membership, Stewart says:

“No, after all I wasn’t.”

Left with no different selection, Adrienne kicked Rod out of residence and advised St Kilda to search out him a accountable teammate to stay with. Thus started his lifetime of couch-surfing, of joints and cask wine for breakfast, afternoons on the TAB, and all the opposite squalid habits it could take a lifetime to interrupt.

Over time, buddies listened to Rod’s lurid revenge fantasies about St Kilda. “He simply was a child,” one says. “It was a type of abuse so far as I can see.”

Not everybody knew the extent of the abuse.

‘I did not even get near it’

An ignored side of Rod Owen’s early years in soccer is that between 1976 and 1978, he performed a outstanding tally of 52 video games for St Kilda’s Little League staff — that period’s equal of AusKick.

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Rod Owen, within the quantity 22 guernsey, performs Little League for St Kilda in 1978

Little League video games have been performed in duplicate VFL uniforms throughout the total size of the bottom. A premiership cup was on supply, and the diminutive stars aped their heroes by altering in the identical locker rooms because the senior groups. Amongst Beaumaris schoolboys, a spot within the St Kilda staff was coveted.

In a photograph album that sits beside Rod’s brown briefcase, a couple of pictures define his dominance of a Little League recreation towards Footscray at Moorabbin. In a single, Rod takes an overhead mark. Within the different, he dwarfs a Bulldogs opponent. He thinks they have been taken the day he kicked seven targets.

Two newspaper article photographs of young boys playing Aussie rules.
Eleven-year-old Rod Owen flies for a mark throughout St Kilda’s Little League recreation towards Footscray at Moorabbin in 1978 (left), then leaves an opponent in his wake throughout his seven-goal efficiency (proper).(



His different recollections of his formative years in St Kilda colors usually are not so constructive.

In these occasions, St Kilda’s Little League staff was managed by the late Albert Briggs, a backroom helper who’d ultimately serve a couple of a long time because the membership’s Reserves timekeeper, performing different odd jobs till the late Nineties.

When Rod was a boy, one in all Briggs’s jobs was presumably to nominate the coach of the Little League staff, and that seemingly insignificant energy would have disastrous penalties. In 1976 and 1977 — as in a number of earlier seasons — Briggs selected Beaumaris Major College librarian and sports activities coach Darrell Ray, the sexual abuser of Rod Owen and numerous different boys within the district.

It signifies that as an alternative of innocent enjoyable, the primary ideas that come to Rod’s thoughts when he thinks of that point are shredded nerves, locked doorways, the looming risk of molestation, and a really explicit rule set down by the coach: no dad and mom within the changerooms.

It signifies that as an alternative of his first purpose in entrance of his residence crowd, or a pat on the again from Trevor Barker, Rod’s first recollections of Moorabbin are being trapped in a room with a person who carried out “depravities” on him.

However Darrell Ray was not the one downside Rod needed to cope with.

When males who suffered abuse in that point point out a “paedophile ring” within the Beaumaris area, they’re normally referring to Ray and two different male college lecturers. When Rod says it, he’s referring to Ray and Briggs, the latter of whom would stay a fixture at St Kilda for Owen’s whole senior profession.

Accordingly, there’s a photograph of Rod from his Little League days that conjures far completely different recollections than his efficiency towards Footscray. Visibly apprehensive, with pleading eyes and a crooked smile, he stands with a teammate close to the top of the gamers’ race, about to play his first recreation on the MCG.

A young boy in a St Kilda guernsey looks at the camera.
St Kilda’s 1976 Little League facet took on Richmond on the MCG shortly after this {photograph} was taken, however nine-year-old Rod Owen entered the sector in a state of bewilderment after struggling abuse by the hands of the staff supervisor.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


It was a dream day for a nine-year-old: a ultimate towards Richmond, the kind of state of affairs Rod would create in his yard fantasies, wheeling round to kick the successful purpose. However there was no successful purpose that day on the MCG — nothing shut.

There are two issues Rod remembers clearly. The primary is his breathless confusion as Albert Briggs began molesting him. The second is the paralytic impact it had on him as soon as he ran onto the bottom.

“I did not even get near it,” Rod says.

“I used to be trying round going, ‘F***, what is going on on?’ I used to be bewildered.”

His bewilderment has endured. He’s stalked by a psychological picture of Ray and Briggs driving round city collectively.

“It makes me surprise,” Rod says.

“Who knew?”

Among the many Beaumaris victims, there may be normal settlement that loads of different boys suffered abuse they refuse to acknowledge, preferring to bury their trauma. If that was ever an possibility for Rod, it disappeared at some point early in his senior profession, when Briggs arrived at his locker with a message.

Albert Briggs and another man pose for a photo with their timekeeping clocks.
Albert Briggs (left) managed St Kilda’s Little League staff, and in addition served because the membership’s Reserves timekeeper.(

Equipped: St Kilda Soccer Membership Annual Report


“He got here up and stated, ‘There’s somebody who needs to see you.’ I stated, ‘The place?’ He stated, ‘Down the race.’ I bought down the race and circled, and right here he’s from a distance however inside earshot — Darrell Ray.

“He checked out me and went vivid crimson. I yelled, ‘I am gonna f***ing kill you.’ I ran again by way of the rooms and out and round, however somebody stopped me. By the point I bought on the market, he’d gone.

“A psychologist advised me that that is what paedophiles love to do. They prefer to see their victims once more in particular person. I do not know what’s fallacious with people.”

Within the a long time that adopted, Rod Owen lived with internal turmoil that went near killing him. Albert Briggs, alternatively, left St Kilda with life membership.

‘An affectionate household factor’

It was inevitable that Owen’s St Kilda profession would finish acrimoniously. So it proved halfway by way of the 1990 season. To the press, St Kilda said that Owen’s knees have been not as much as the coaching commitments required in St Kilda’s new period; they might permit him to play at VFA membership Frankston till he regained health.

A man folds his arms on top of a table and positions his head behind cassette tapes stacked in towers.
By early 1990, when this photograph was taken, St Kilda was shedding its picture because the occasion membership of the AFL, and Saints powerbrokers did not see Rod Owen becoming in with its plans.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Privately, Owen began sharing a couple of of his issues, however throughout the soccer tradition of the time, the abuse was the very last thing he might lay naked.

“Again then, in the event you stated something about your nervousness, despair or fears, you have been labelled bizarre or smooth, and banished,” he says.

“I by no means had the braveness to ask for assist.”

It is easy to see why. In a disaster assembly with St Kilda, he tearfully admitted his amphetamine dependancy, and stated he was struggling to remain above water. St Kilda despatched him residence to Adrienne, and he was sacked a couple of hours later. A club-approved historical past is obvious: “The official line was that Owen can be out for the remainder of the season with a knee harm. He had, nonetheless, successfully been sacked.”

Years later, Susan would describe the 2 modes Rod’s binges would take: “a roll” was when a celebration was beginning; “a spiral” was when issues had turned dangerous to even the slightest diploma. The tip of Rod’s St Kilda profession was a spiral that would not finish for years.

At Frankston, his $700 match payment disappeared over the bar and he’d be broke and suicidal by Monday. Inside months, he piled on 12 kilograms. However he performed some sensible soccer, too, so Melbourne coach John Northey got here calling.

A portrait of a man in a Melbourne Football uniform.
Rod Owen reinvented himself at Melbourne, incomes Victorian choice for his sensible begin to the 12 months, however a knee harm halfway by way of the season despatched him on the downwards spiral that ended his AFL profession.(



A deal was struck: if Rod might sober up and keep clear, Adrienne would take him again at her residence and the Demons would supply him a one-year deal for 1991. In a rigorous pre-season, the load dropped off. Melbourne colleagues from the time say he was decided to show the Saints fallacious.

The outcomes flowed: 19 targets within the first 9 video games and Victorian choice. The membership was the whole lot St Kilda had lacked: skilled at each degree, brimming with sturdy leaders on and off the sector, and full of individuals with good intentions. Owen was “adopted” by membership powerbroker George Simon and his son Andy.

“At St Kilda, he by no means had what he bought when he got here to Melbourne, which was an affectionate household factor,” Andy Simon says.

“I am certain if Dad and I have been St Kilda supporters, it in all probability would have been slightly bit completely different for Rocket.”

But the worst-case state of affairs nonetheless performed out: a critical knee harm in spherical 10 not solely robbed Owen of his State of Origin guernsey, however completed his season. His alcoholic spiral was quick and alarming.

Five men in suits and bow ties sit around a table and look at the camera.
Rod Owen (centre) made lifelong buddies at Melbourne and benefited from path and assist that had been sorely missing at St Kilda. He’s pictured with Melbourne identities (from left) Leroy Huckstep, Graeme Yeats, Jim Stynes and Greg Healy.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


The tip of the road was the 1992 Brisbane Bears, who promised little and left Owen to his personal gadgets. Within the final years of gamers holding down day jobs, Owen grew to become one in all 35 unemployed males on the Bears’ 52-man listing, dwelling in a drug-filled share home and using a BMX to coaching. He eked out his final 9 video games within the AFL.

The gorgeous performances of which he’d all the time been succesful have been in shocking abundance given his wretched life-style. In his fourth-last recreation he kicked 8.6 and lit up Princes Park. In his final, an nearly lawless whitewash at Kardinia Park, he was dragged at the start of the ultimate time period, trotted to the bench and signed off on the AFL by punching a wall and breaking his hand.

One other 60-day bender adopted — the one which no one wrote about. Owen and his buddies spent two months browsing, ingesting and getting excessive. For some time, he thought it was the start of a stress-free life. Then the binge ended. Soberly appraising his failures and anxieties, Rod entered a interval of despondence and self-harm.

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Rod Owen dominates for Melbourne towards North Melbourne on the MCG in 1991.(YouTube: Melbourne FC Historical past)

“He rang one night time, very late,” Adrienne says, dismayed to think about what soccer had finished to her boy.

“He stated he was on the roof of the on line casino at Surfers Paradise, and that I in all probability would not see him once more.”

‘A tragic commentary’

October 2, 1999, was one other dangerous day for Rod Owen. Police fastidiously photographed the blood that had sprayed up partitions and throughout the curtains, spilling so freely that it pooled in a number of places.

A 12 months later, within the Morwell County Courtroom, Decide Betty King concluded that it belonged to Lindsay John Burgess, and had flowed in nearly lethal portions because of the “cowardly, barbaric” behaviour of the defendant, Roderick John Owen.

Soccer followers learn that Owen, a binge-drinker for the reason that age of 15, had been indulging closely once more the day earlier than the 1999 Phillip Island motorbike Grand Prix, the place he was working as a part of a crew putting in seats.

Stories claimed Owen attacked his defenceless boss, Burgess, with out provocation, and “simply saved on hitting him”, till Burgess’s head resembled a flattened basketball, his nostril and higher jaw damaged so badly that his face needed to be surgically reconstructed with microplates and titanium screws.

It was the second Rod was referring to when he started writing his memoirs with the phrases: “I take full duty for my actions after my 18th birthday … “

A little girl giggles while sitting on her father's lap.
Rod’s eldest daughter Layla skilled separation nervousness when he was despatched to jail, and he struggled for years afterwards to win her belief.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Pleading responsible to recklessly inflicting critical harm, Owen was sentenced to 18 months in jail and would serve 9. Burgess advised reporters he would by no means forgive his attacker: “I consider it day by day … I nearly misplaced my life. I am going to always remember.”

On the time, a lot was made from Decide King’s evaluation of St Kilda’s tradition of heavy ingesting, and its failure to cease Owen’s descent.

“It’s a unhappy commentary on the values and macho standing of our sporting golf equipment that they didn’t forestall such a younger man from changing into concerned in ingesting of such quantities and length,” King stated.

Sure components of Owen’s defence additionally drew consideration. He stated the worksite had stuffed with crass jokes about paedophilia. He claimed he’d engaged in drunken retaliation towards one other colleague who’d seen the Aboriginal flag on Owen’s chest — tattooed in honour of his son from a relationship previous to his assembly Susan — and provoked Owen with a vile racial slur.

A man wears a t-shirt with the Aboriginal flag in the shape of Australia on it, with the words 'Always Was, Always Will Be'.
Rod Owen has an Aboriginal flag tattooed on his chest in honour of his son, and has all the time felt an affinity with Indigenous Australians.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


In that model of occasions, stepping in to defuse the scenario, Burgess was merely “within the fallacious place on the fallacious time”.

The final eight phrases appear essentially the most correct.

To at the present time, when Rod talks concerning the incident, the entire story emerges solely cryptically, throughout dozens of conversations unfold over months, and because of Susan’s cautious reconstruction of the occasions main as much as the weekend of the crime.

On the time, Rod had relapsed into heavy ingesting. In a interval that bore all of the hallmarks of a spiral, Susan knew he wanted routine. As a substitute he took a brief job, sharing dreary lodgings with sketchy characters.

The 12 months previous had been acutely demanding to Rod, Susan says. “He rang me at some point and stated, ‘I believe I need assistance. There’s something fallacious with me. I’ve bought a rash throughout me.'”

It was a horrific case of shingles.

Susan puzzled whether or not it was the collected stress of Rod’s frequent upheavals and nomadic life-style. Right here, there was a element of significance: for 3 months earlier than the job, Rod had lived with and confided in an previous Beaumaris Major schoolmate — a fellow sufferer of Darrell Ray.

Rod was additionally discovering that after greater than 20 years of sinking into related existence, Ray’s different victims have been starting to speak. In 1998, Ray had been confronted by such a sufferer and it sparked the police investigation that will ultimately result in the abuser’s arrest and prosecution.

As a part of that investigation, Rod’s housemate gave an announcement to police, prevailing upon Rod to provide one too. However terrified of dwelling in a world during which everybody knew what had occurred to him, Rod would not unburden himself of 23 years of anguish.

It is why, even to at the present time, you want the assistance of these round Rod to know how he might dismiss such an unspeakable act of violence as a “psychotic episode”, but additionally declare he would “by no means justify what I did”. It is why it is sensible that he was so triggered by his colleagues’ jokes about paedophilia. It is why, if you put all of it collectively, you start to know why he lashed out at an authority determine.

And it is why it rings true when he ultimately says this:

‘He is aware of he is bought to assist himself’

St Kilda’s neglect of Rod Owen within the a long time following his enjoying profession is greatest summarised by the occasions throughout and instantly after his stretch at Dhurringile jail farm.

“We’ve got to simply accept some duty,” stated Rod Butterss, St Kilda’s president of the time.

“We will not simply blame the person and say he mucked up or that he’s a ratbag. The very fact is, he was in our system. He was with us for eight years and if anybody leaves the place much less capable of cope with life than when he arrived, we have failed.”

A man holds a toddler.
Rod holds his youthful daughter Zoe in 2003, when the Owen household determined a recent begin was wanted in Noosa.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


What nonetheless angers Owen is that it amounted to little greater than a public relations train. In 2001, Butterss paid Owen a 20-minute go to in jail, then gave an expansive interview to the Herald Solar:

What it meant, in actuality, was that St Kilda provided Owen no sensible assist in any respect. He had no thought methods to “assist himself” and would not for nearly 20 years. Removed from “very constructive”, his prospects have been nothing brighter than a number of backbreaking work as a concreter and a return to his addictions.

A man in a St Kilda guernsey holds the ball and runs.
Accidents blighted Rod Owen’s eight seasons at St Kilda, however when he was match and obtainable, he was a devastating expertise able to tilting the sport’s momentum in a matter of minutes.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Twenty months after his launch from jail, Rod went public along with his disappointment: “It would not fear me in the event that they hadn’t stated something, however many individuals, together with president Rod Butterss, stated a number of issues about serving to me after I bought out. Nothing has occurred. Why make an enormous deal about it after which do nothing?”

In 2017, Butterss made an admission of his personal: cocaine abuse and alcoholism had clouded his judgement throughout his time as St Kilda’s figurehead.

At the least Butterss confirmed up. Others at St Kilda promised to make visits and by no means fronted.

Rod’s buddies would ultimately view his jail time because the dividing line between two eras of St Kilda’s failure — the primary, its dereliction of responsibility to a weak teenager, the second, its a long time of neglect after Rod’s launch, when he was overwhelmed by the traumas soccer created.

However the burden was not Rod’s alone.

‘Is he kidding?’

Rod’s final spiral reached an acutely uncomfortable part on October 19, 2018 — the Friday night time of his daughter Layla’s highschool commencement dinner.

Susan had drawn a line below the connection in 2015, and the following years of Rod’s life have been a disturbing blur of drug abuse and chaos. In 2016, he’d met his accomplice Kylie Clarke. Instantly, they have been on what Rod calls “a downhill spiral to hell”, enabling every others’ addictions.

By 2018, Rod’s most hellish dependancy was painkillers. Botched varicose vein surgical procedure in 2015 and the 2017 hip alternative and again surgical procedure that ended his concreting profession launched him to Endone and OxyContin, the medication that will nearly end him off.

Layla’s commencement was a $150-a-head perform on the MCG. Susan was pleased to cowl Rod’s place on the desk as a result of he’d made a particular effort, getting a go well with made for the event to point out his daughter how a lot he cared.

A man and a woman dressed up for an occasion.
Their eldest daughter’s highschool commencement dinner was meant to be a contented night time for Rod Owen and Susan.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Schooled in the identical bayside area of Rod’s adolescence, Layla had politely weathered years of uninformed judgment of Rod by her friends’ dad and mom, who repeated the occasion monster cliche, lamenting Rod’s squandered expertise and volatility, unaware of the torment Layla had seen tearing him aside.

On commencement night time, Layla was buoyed by Rod’s intentions and guarantees of fine behaviour, however edgy as soon as she famous her father’s erratic temper — he’d smoked marijuana to settle his nerves — and his skeletal body.

She recalled all the opposite damaged guarantees down the years.

Following an anxious taxi trip to the MCG, Susan let Layla and Rod lag behind to speak, however Layla quickly sped as much as her mom’s facet. “Is he kidding?” she requested. Rod was sobbing, having admitted to a different suicide try solely days earlier. “Don’t fret about it,” Layla advised her mum, pulling everybody collectively.

Inside, drinks and entrees reached the desk, together with the standard procession of fathers — Saints supporters who needed to speak concerning the good previous days. Susan had seen all of it earlier than. Rod would oblige them, maintain again his resentments, politely inform them what they needed to listen to. Ultimately they’d go away him alone.

Not this night time.

“F*** St Kilda,” he snapped at one well mannered inquiry. “Who provides a shit about footy?”

Phrase reached the desk that Rod was on the lookout for cocaine. Layla’s worst fears have been materialising. What had she finished to deserve this? Why could not he maintain it collectively? Deep down, Susan knew what was in all probability occurring: it was the commencement night time Rod by no means had, and there have been reminders of footy throughout him. She knew it won’t finish nicely.

A father launched himself and walked away. ‘Who’s he?’ Rod requested. Susan advised him: simply one of many dads. ‘Is he a trainer?’ No. Susan advised him once more. However Rod was obsessed: the person simply needed to be a trainer. It was all he might speak about. He was satisfied: not solely was the person a trainer, he was a paedophile trainer.

College commencement. St Kilda. Children. Lecturers. Paedophiles. The MCG. Alcohol. Medicine. All of it was swirling round Rod, and he could not cope.

A man and woman stand in a church and hold their baby.
Attending his eldest daughter Layla’s christening was a contented second for Rod Owen, however within the following years, he says his addictions bought the higher of him.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Susan seen one thing else occurring. Like a number of gamblers, Rod noticed nice significance in numbers. The 27 he wore on his again for St Kilda was in honour of his father’s birthday, and he seemed for it in every single place he went. One other was 154662: Rod’s jail ID. The quantity at play on Layla’s commencement night time was 52 — Graeme’s age when he died. Rod was a few months away from his 52nd birthday.

“Rod had this understanding that he was going to die on the similar age as his dad,” Susan says.

“For years, he mainly had a demise want. He had these sayings that will drive me mad: ‘If you happen to’re not dwelling on the sting, you take up an excessive amount of room.’ He had it in his head that he was going to die, and I believe that may have been what he was attempting to do.”

Simply as issues appeared sure to show ugly, Rod excused himself and left. When Layla found his departure, she wasn’t unhappy to listen to it. For the subsequent few hours, it was different youngsters who felt pangs of embarrassment when Mum or Dad had a couple of drinks too many.

Layla and Susan exhaled and managed to get pleasure from themselves, however their aid was short-lived.

‘You are a shame’

October 21, 2018. Rod Owen was out of his thoughts on Bay Avenue, Port Melbourne. The determine approaching him from behind? Layla, a lot older than her 18 years. Two days on from Rod’s meltdown, she was nonetheless seething with anger — much more so when she noticed the state he was in.

“You are a shame,” she stated, then punched him within the abdomen.

His preliminary response was the identical previous Rod. He staggered residence and punched one other wall. However with the opposite hand, he picked up his telephone and referred to as his mate Darren ‘Crab’ Harland, a former Port Melbourne footballer who’d escaped dependancy and onerous crime.

Crab heard the phrases he’d been ready for from Rod: “Get me into rehab.”

Rod had all the time talked it down, utilizing one other of the silly sayings that drove Susan mad: “Rehab is for quitters.” However 4 days after Layla’s punch, Rod’s accomplice Kylie drove him to a facility for a three-month keep. The AFL Gamers Affiliation footed the invoice, sparing the couple from dropping their house.

Two weeks later, Kylie’s personal restoration started. Two and a half years on, the couple have achieved one thing most round them thought not possible, staying sober collectively for so long as they’d beforehand been gripped by dependancy.

A dressed up Rod Owen and his partner Kylie Clarke pose for a photo.
Rod and his accomplice Kylie have helped one another recuperate from dependancy.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


“In restoration, they speak about all-time low,” Rod says.

“I hit it that arduous, I’ve stayed hit.

“It is confronting, however I want I might finished it after I was a child. It is wonderful what I discovered in these three months, then doing the 12-step program and conferences. I might misplaced lots of people’s respect, and I used to be decided to solely do it as soon as.”

“While you’re an addict, you do not realise how dangerous you might be till you come out of it,” Kylie says.

“We went for a stroll alongside the seaside lately, and laughed that we weren’t in a pub. Simply having fun with the solar, watching the waves — easy, regular issues. After we have been addicts, we weren’t doing something regular.”

Among the many points of Rod’s present life that will most shock individuals, his burgeoning spirituality and curiosity in japanese philosophy can be up there. Central to his restoration is a routine of twice-daily meditation and readings from the JFT (“Only for Right this moment”).

“You may get it in your telephone,” Rod says.

“It is referred to as the Clear Time app. It is bought readings. You learn it and it goes by way of completely different classes. ‘Rules over character’ was yesterday’s. They name it enlightenment. I used to be studying concerning the first flower on Earth the opposite day. It has been life-changing. I want everybody might grasp it like I’ve.”

The opposite pillars of his sobriety are chilly showers, morning swims within the freezing waters of Port Phillip Bay, and an nearly every day garden bowls ritual. The bald head, crooked nostril, wrist brace and the tattoos protruding from his board shorts make for an unconventional sight on the greens, however by noon most days, Rod’s having fun with recent air, partaking his aggressive instincts and staying as energetic as his battered physique will permit.

In pursuit of closure, he has additionally launched authorized proceedings towards Darrell Ray and Beaumaris Major College.

Slowly, he’s mending relationships.

“I really feel so sorry for my youngsters,” he says.

“What they went by way of and noticed with me, by way of alcoholism, concussion, drug abuse, all that, I by no means needed my youngsters to see it. However the addictions bought maintain of me.”

Two young women dressed up for a 21st birthday party pose for a photo.
Rod Owen says he by no means needed his daughters Layla (left) and Zoe (proper) to see the consequences alcoholism and medicines had on him, however now he is mending these relationships and shifting ahead.(



Now he is even undoing the anxieties of these round him. When Layla and Zoe have been struggling by way of Melbourne’s stage 4 coronavirus restrictions, they joined Rod every morning within the ice-cold seaside water at Port Melbourne.

“He was a large assist,” Layla says.

“He was giving me books to learn. His bible is The Energy of Now by Eckhart Tolle. It says that what’s previously is previously, and you’ll’t dwell on it if you wish to transfer ahead and turn out to be a greater particular person. I believe he reads it day by day.”

Family members say Rod has two looming challenges. The primary is managing the wince-inducing ache from his many accidents with out the painkillers and surgical procedure they require, however which he refuses for worry of a relapse.

The opposite — the one which preoccupies Rod most — is managing the consequences of concussions suffered throughout his soccer profession. Final 12 months, he pledged his mind to the Australian Mind Financial institution.

Rod Owen with a Brain Bank researcher poses for a photo.
Having felt the influence of many concussions throughout his soccer profession, Rod Owen, pictured with Australian Mind Financial institution Victorian analysis supervisor Alan Pearce, has pledged his mind to science.(

Equipped: Rod Owen


Rod’s mom Adrienne used to inform journalists it was pointless telling a narrative with no pleased ending. Now it is occurring.

“He is like a human being once more,” she says.

“We have got a very nice relationship. He introduced Kylie down the opposite day, and I believe she’s a stunning woman. He is very fortunate and I am extraordinarily pleased with him.”

Zoe hopes her dad is not misunderstood.

“As soon as I knew what occurred when he was younger, and why he was so indignant, I simply understood him much more,” she says.

“No one is aware of the extent to which that may spoil somebody’s life. I am all the time reminding him how far he is come, and the way significantly better he’s.”

‘I could not have let it go’

St Kilda is lastly grappling with the 36 years of chaos that started in January 1983, though it was solely knowledgeable this week of the context and legacy of Rod’s abuse as a baby.

In February, after conferences with the Saints, addressing his time as a St Kilda senior participant, Rod acquired a honest, long-overdue written apology.

“We’re sorry that your enjoying days with our membership concerned the kinds of experiences you’ve gotten described,” wrote Saints CEO Matt Finnis in a two-page letter, granting that “phrases are simply that and our actions will finally affect your true feeling of reconciliation together with your membership”.

A man sits at a bus stop and stares into the distance.
In February this 12 months, after conferences with the Saints, Rod acquired a honest, written apology.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


St Kilda’s advised actions embody profession assist, connection to its previous participant community, and bodily and psychological well being assist, the latter by way of the Frawley Centre initiative — its response to the concussion-influenced suicide of Owen’s former captain, Danny Frawley.

Finnis stated he was devastated to study this week of Rod’s expertise on the Saints Little League.

“I’ve been speaking with Rod about his experiences enjoying senior soccer, however my apology and assist provided on behalf of the Membership in that context now feels poor given this disclosure and his story.

“That Rod suffered this abuse is so upsetting and that he has carried this horrible burden for therefore lengthy is heartbreaking.

“For the Membership, that a few of this occurred below the identify of the Saints is shattering, and I promise Rod and his household, and our supporters, we are going to do the whole lot we will to proper this fallacious.”

When Rod confirmed St Kilda’s letter to family and friends, reactions assorted. “It is a good letter”, Layla advised him. Those that’ve recognized Rod the longest have been extra sceptical, questioning how one can quantify the injury finished to a weak boy, not to mention count on the person to really feel snug at Moorabbin, the scene of so many traumas. Rod is mulling one of the best path ahead.

His previous boxing pal Mick Hamilton says most of St Kilda’s solutions are the small however essential issues Rod is already doing for himself. He sees a future during which his delicate buddy performs counsellor to different addicts, passing on priceless data he is gained the onerous approach.

Rod agrees. He needs to inform those that are going through related battles that if he can get by way of it, they will too, regardless of how overwhelming their difficulties.

“I could not have let go if I hadn’t introduced it up,” he says.

Rod Owen looks at the camera with a weathered face.
Rod has discovered speaking about his previous has helped him to maneuver on, and out of the darkness.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


“If I turn out to be a face of it, I do not care anymore. It practically killed me, as a result of the resentments bought an excessive amount of. The illness of dependancy is simply so progressive. I used to be both going to kill myself or kill another person. Nothing surer.”

The “serving to others” part has already begun. He is tackling Certificates IV in alcohol and different medication as a step in direction of counselling others, constructing a framework for his in depth sensible data.

Within the week he completed telling his story, his neighbourhood conferences resumed after 9 months’ absence however the first visitor speaker was a no-show. Fifteen minutes earlier than begin time, the organiser requested Rod to fill the breach. Just a few years in the past, he says the prospect of such publicity would have engaged his battle and flight impulse.

Rod thinks no one who is aware of the remainder of his story might be squeamish concerning the very human occasions that adopted, earlier than he commanded the eye of the room and powered by way of an inspiring speech: he rushed to the lavatory, his abdomen extra upset than it had been in years.

“It is like one thing inside me was eliminating the satan,” he says.

“Then I spoke. Individuals got here up and stated it was nice. I can tick if off. However I additionally thought, ‘I might like to have one other crack at it.’ That is the self-worth downside addicts endure from.

“I did not suppose it might be this satisfying. There was a number of hatred in me — the varsity lecturers, St Kilda, the resentments went on and on. Whether or not this does anything, at the least my youngsters will know the sincere reality and know, deep down, that their previous man cherished them.”

The ladies who walked beside Rod by way of his misplaced a long time don’t see themselves because the heroes of his story, however his triumph is theirs too, and he is aware of it.

He says his guiding ideas will probably be compassion and forgiveness, of himself and others. He’ll attempt to proceed with out judgement, even of those that say he was the architect of his personal misfortunes.

“I’ve finished some horrible issues in my life and I do not bear in mind the whole lot,” he says.

“So, I give individuals the advantage of the doubt.”

An open briefcase sits on a set of concrete stairs, displaying photographs of Rod Owen during his playing days.
Rod Owen hopes that sharing his most painful secrets and techniques will encourage others to confront their fears.(

ABC Sport: Russell Jackson


And he’ll maintain on to his father’s battered brown briefcase, which is extra just like the black field of his life, stuffed with the darkness that after consumed him, however not secrets and techniques.

On the backside sit a pair of certificates, unremarkable at first look — the sort that many boys accumulate. One is from 1976, the opposite from 1977. They have been issued “as a memento of your enjoying for the Saints Little League”.

Every certificates is signed on the backside with names that ought to spark fond recollections of faraway suburban ovals, the crackle of laughter, and the start of a notable sporting life.

The signatures belong to the lads who granted a baby his most cherished dream — to play within the colors of the staff his father cherished. The boys who handed Rod Owen his first St Kilda jumper, then confirmed him the value he needed to pay.

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