Although family and friends draw Grant Fielke back, it’s the Riverland people who make his trips so enjoyable.
As far as sporting legends go, the Riverland is awash with more than its fair share, and chief amongst them is West Adelaide football great, Grant Fielke. A 400+ game career that includes the likes of a premiership, a club captaincy, a best and fairest, and a Magarey Medal, Grant is renowned as a gritty, gutsy competitor loved by Bloods fans and respected by the opposition.
Loxton born, and raised on a farm in Taldra, about 40 minute’s drive to the north east near the Victorian border, Grant, like a lot of other Riverland kids, was raised on a diet of local sport. He and his four brothers were sports mad and would always find time for games of footy and cricket after helping out with chores around the farm after school.
Although closer to Renmark, Grant went to school in Loxton North and played all his junior sport at Loxton where football was a second preference to playing cricket.
“I was very impressionable as a lad, — one of my best memories of the Riverland was as a 15-year-old playing for Loxton in the A Grade cricket Grand Final with my sporting heroes at the time…blokes that I looked up to as a kid.”
From the age of about nine, Grant’s sporting destiny was set with weekends and any spare moments dedicated to either football in the winter or cricket in the summer. In fact, Saturdays were devoted to watching the local Riverland games, while Sundays were reserved for playing.
It was as a junior that Grant was first spotted, and kept tabs on, by SANFL talent scouts but not until he played for SA in the under-16 State Team that West Adelaide recruiters saw in him a potential to go on to bigger and better things.
“I really wanted to be a carpenter at that stage, so I said get me an apprenticeship, and I’ll come down and play. I was only 16 at the time, and that [the apprenticeship] eventuated, so it was a big move for me at the time — a huge move.”
But it was a move that paid off big time with Grant staying with the Bloods for nine years before Collingwood came knocking with an opportunity to play a season in the VFL.
Back at the Bloods, and three years later, Grant lined up with a band of scruffy ring-ins from nine other SANFL clubs in 1991 to play for the Adelaide Crows in its inaugural game against Hawthorn in newly formed AFL.
Grant returned to West Adelaide and played another six years — the last four as club captain — to bring his tally to a club record of 365 games. Add that to his eight State appearances, 24 with the Crows and 16 with Collingwood, and Grant Fielke’s entry to the exclusive ‘400 club’ is well and truly confirmed.
And if you needed any more kudos to entrench him as one of South Australia’s best, Grant has also received nods as both an SANFL and West Adelaide Hall of Famer, elevation to Bloods legend status, and in 2015 was voted West Adelaide’s ‘Greatest Player of All Time’.
These days, Grant lives in Gawler but gets back to Loxton a few times a month to see his mum and catch up with family and friends including good mate and another footy legend in Woodville’s Barry ‘Buff’ Tyrell at Kingston on Murray.
Grant’s ‘must-dos’ while here include hitting the Berri Hotel and the Loxton Club for a great feed. And, while he loves all aspects of the Riverland, he especially loves reconnecting with the local community and enjoying local hospitality. ‘“
“Most people you meet in the Riverland are good people…good quality people… people who have your best interests at heart.”
As a Riverland Ambassador, Grant is quick to ensure visitors will want for nothing.
“The Riverland has everything you could ever want. People say they’re going to the Surfer’s paradise, but the Riverland is more fun. It has all the sport you could want to play, the sunshine, the river, great hotels, great people.”
“The only thing I reckon it needs is a great theme park, like a water park or something. If some entrepreneur could put that in the Riverland, it would be the equal of anything in Australia.”
Thanks, Grant, we’ll pop that on the agenda.
Grant Fielke, West Adelaide and South Australian football legend and Riverland Ambassador