Praise the Lord

Aside from the low-brow one-liners from Thursday night host David “Mini” McLaurin, one of the highlights of selection night at Charles Riley Reserve is the naming of the fifths squad.

No surnames, just nicknames. And as coach Peter Panagopolous rattles off one after the other, new barflies snigger in the corner. And there’s no doubt that the biggest giggle is reserved for “Jesus.”

jesusThat man, aka Novak Smith, all jokes aside, has been a wonderful contributor to the football club and will tomorrow celebrate his 200th game for the club. A clever goal-kicker and part of the heart and soul of the Beach he will play that game against Wesley Curtin at Percy Doyle Oval tomorrow afternoon.

The lower grade players do not enjoy the spotlight or the profile of those in the senior teams, but they are a serious part of what makes the club tick.

Down in the fifths, they don’t get umpires provided, run their own bench and sometimes, when numbers are low, those who are supposed to be resting on the interchange, slip on the boundary umpires’ vest for a quarter.

They play because they have a great love for the game, a deep passion for the club, but mainly because they run around with their mates every Saturday afternoon and proudly throw on their North Beach guernseys.

One of the Beach’s great characters, ‘Jesus’ has been a part of the club for 14 seasons and justifiably takes great pride in his 200 game milestone.

But how could you start an interview with this bloke without enquiring as to the origins of his unique moniker? Especially when he is a clean cut sales and marketing manager for SGS Australia during the week.

“It started in the old days when I had long hair and a beard,” Smith said. “It was about 2002 and we used to have those player ID cards which had to be handed over to the umpires to make sure everyone was legit.

“So in the photo I had long hair and a healthy beard. Someone called me Jesus one day and it has stuck, even though the hair was cut off a long time ago.”

Smith began his association with North Beach when playing colts in 1999. He played two years in the under-19s, played a season of A-Reserves in 2001 but since then has played in the 3s, 4s or 5s.

“I have been up and down like a yoyo, but arrived at about the time the A-Grade started its amazing premiership run,” he said. “The year before I started I think they lost to Scarborough in the grand final, but then just kept winning premierships.

“This is my 14th year and I love it. It’s great getting down there and playing with the boys.

“In the lower grades you don’t necessarily push for premierships, although that would be nice. It’s just fun and a great outlet. If you’re having a tough time, you can just get down, have a run with the boys and put it out of your mind.

“This year we have been lucky with our numbers because some of the 20-year-old colts have come down to play with us and that has been good for our numbers.

“There’s not a lot of my old teammates still around. Brett Anthony started a year before me and Slimy was in the middle of his sabattical, but I am quite proud of playing 200 games for the club.”