Dean Buckridge is 56 years old and has played football for Manly Vale FC for the last fifty of those years. “It might sound a bit boring but I just love the club and love playing football,” he said. “I don’t do much else, really. It’s just what I do.”
Just as well he likes it. For it’s estimated (because records don’t exist) that Buckridge has played over 1000 games of football. Manly Vale Secretary Roy Sider said Buckridge is the “ultimate clubman”.
“He’s here for the right reasons. He’s solid, loyal, a one club man. He’s maroon and white through and through. There’s no-one with stronger ties to Manly Vale and the football club – even if he does live in Allambie!” Sider laughed.
Buckridge began with the club in the U/7s in 1972. “It was just what I did,” he said. “I grew up on the street that runs by David Thomas Reserve. Me and the other local street kids would spend all our time on the oval, kicking it around with other guys I went to school with.”
In the late 70s and early 80s Manly Football Club (which would later merge with Allambie) had a gun junior team featuring stars Gary van Egmond, Bob Catlin and the odd surf club beach sprint champion. They were undefeated for seven seasons. They would win the league and cup double every year.
Sider, meanwhile, lived in Manly and couldn’t find a way into the team. He joined Manly Vale instead. And played for the next 45 years in the same team as Dean Buckridge. “We could never knock them off,” Buckridge says. “They were a great team.”
By the U/18s, though, when bigger things took van Egmond and Catlin away, Manly Vale had a decent team of their own, making the final of the Champion of Champions in 1983. They would lose but for a small club it was notable.
“And from there we just kept on playing,” Buckridge says.
That they did. As 20-somethings they played AL4s and won the odd trophy before taking on admin roles at the club. Sider’s been secretary for 20 years, Buckridge a coach and manager of O/35s and O/45s. And they’ve played and played and played. The club and game is the social glue of their lives. It’s kept them fit. It’s given them a place.
“Saturday afternoon at the football has been a constant of our lives,” Sider says. “We’ve been through marriages, breakups, kids, pandemics! It’s just something we love.”
Buckridge has played almost all of his 50 years as a defender. He can’t remember scoring too many goals outside of those he’s put into his own net. But when you play a thousand games in the last line of defence, you’re a chance of putting the odd one in.
Sider says Buckridge was – and remains – “a solid robust no-nonsense player”.
“He’s pretty quiet for a back, doesn’t bark orders. What you see is what you get. His one redeeming skill is that he’s a pretty good header of the ball. He’s just medium build but he’s got a good leap and confidence in the air.
“Otherwise, he’s unassuming. Not that talkative and the last bloke you’d think would be a manager. But his passion for the game and for the club has seen him step into the managerial role when no-one else has.
“And today he’s still burning for the club and for his team. He’s been running our teams as we’ve entered our football twilight.”
When will Buckridge stop playing?
“I haven’t thought about it,” he says. “I don’t know what else I’d do.”