Newcastle football international Doug Wendt, who has died aged 92, once made one of the most courageous and remarkable decisions in the history of Australian soccer.
He missed a certain place in the Australian side to tour South Africa in 1950 by refusing to play in a hastily arranged trial match that clashed with a cricket final involving his team, Newcastle Police Boys Club.
Wendt had been asked to play in the trial because a selector, from South Australia, had never seen him play and wouldn't pick him until he did. Horrified by Wendt's refusal, Sid Grant, the NSW national selector, implored: "All you have to do is run onto the ground and you'll be in the team for South Africa."
Renowned for his honour and sportsmanship, Wendt recalled later: "Sid Grant thought I was mad. I would loved to have gone to South Africa. It would have been a highlight of my football career, but I had already agreed to play in the cricket final and I wasn't prepared to let the team down or break my word. I'd do the same thing again if the same circumstances arose." Police Boys won the cricket final.
Ironically, Wendt was involved in a bizarre incident when the Australian team returned home. He played for NSW who beat the travel-weary national side 3-0 in a "welcome home" match at Sydney Sports Ground.
I wasn't prepared to let the team down or break my word. I'd do the same thing again if the same circumstances arose.
The NSW players were first onto the field but were puzzled when the Australian side didn't appear for another 20 minutes. "We had no idea what was going on," Wendt said. An angry dressing room revolt by the returning players who refused to take part until the Australian Board of Control agreed to pay them a share of the gate takings.
The board's "penny pinching" was legendary. During that period they didn't even allow players to keep their shirts after international matches. "We were even warned that if we pinched one we'd never play for Australia again," Wendt said.
Douglas James Wendt, who represented Australia six times and played for NSW on more than 20 occasions, was born in Newcastle in 1927.
His English father, Charles, migrated to work in the Newcastle steelworks and married local girl Dorothy Grainger. The family went through tough times during the Depression when sport played a huge part in helping people endure the hardship.
Sport became Wendt's passion. He excelled in cricket and soccer. He started kicking balls from the time he could walk. His fortune-telling aunt, who read tea leaves in cups, predicted he would play soccer for Australia one day.
Wendt had some colourful boyhood experiences when his family lived opposite Broadmeadow airfield and its adjoining sports fields.
He saw the British aviation pioneer, Amy Johnson, overshoot the runway and crash her plane onto one of the playing fields. Unhurt, she emerged from the cockpit resplendent and smiling. Young Wendt thought she looked like a ghost.
Charles Kingsford Smith patted Wendt on the head after he and his mates helped push Smithy's plane to a hangar. He had missed the runway and landed on the field where the boys were playing soccer.
Wendt had a dysfunctional family upbringing. Although only 18 months older, his brother and best mate, Arthur, had a much stronger influence on Wendt than their father who had health problems. When Wendt looked like getting into trouble Arthur enrolled him in the Newcastle Police Boys Club. It not only got him back on the right path, but also launched his impressive career in soccer and cricket. He starred in both for the club.
One season he played all-age as well as junior football. When the teams made the grand final on the same day, he helped win the junior game, then piled into the back of police wagon, that raced him across Newcastle, sirens blaring, to play in the all-age grand final, which they also won.
He also starred for New Lambton before switching to Adamstown Rosebud when he was 21.
In cricket, Wendt represented Newcastle and NSW Country, scoring many centuries. Jim de Courcy, the Newcastle Test batsman, thought Wendt was unlucky not to have achieved Sheffield Shield honours.
He still holds the Gladesville District Cricket Association record batting average of 110, with six centuries.
In 1952, Wendt married Joan Gleeson, the daughter of a Newcastle police sergeant, and sister of a soccer mate, Vince Gleeson. It was the start of 66 years of happy marriage. Luckily, Joan, also Newcastle born, shared Wendt's love of sport.
Find something you enjoy doing and get out there and do it.
Wendt left Newcastle Central School aged 14 years and eight months to work as a messenger boy, and later an apprentice, for a printing company.
Keen to learn more about off-set and colour printing, he and Joan moved to Sydney shortly after they were married.
On hearing about his move from Newcastle, Auburn Soccer Club quickly signed Wendt to play for them. He later played with Gladesville and Sydney Austral. A knee injury ended his career in 1961.
Wendt played in five B internationals for Australia, mainly as left half. His proudest moment was receiving his Socceroo cap for his first full A international against South Africa in 1955. He rejected an offer to play with English club Blackpool because they wouldn't pay Joan's fare to England.
Wendt worked in the printing department at John Fairfax and Sons Ltd for 28 years. On retirement, he received high management praise for his dedication and loyalty. For a number of years he was a judge for The Sydney Morning Herald’s best and fairest soccer awards.
His contribution to football is honoured as an inductee in the Hunter Region Sporting Hall of Fame. Always positive, gregarious and widely respected, Wendt's abiding philosophy was that life was there to be lived and advised young and old alike: "Find something you enjoy doing and get out there and do it."
Wendt died in Sydney on February 1. He is survived by widow Joan, four children, their marriage partners, 10 grandchildren and nine great grandchildren.