COUNTRY footy has this week lost one of its great champions – and will be the poorer for it.
Because David Fox’s impact on the country football community – and in particular the Goulburn Valley League – wasn't one of just statistics, numbers or data.
His work, his contribution and now his legacy, was anchored in the essence, the feeling and the very emotion of the game he called great.
And was great at calling.
Only the biggest characters transcend the game, reach the level where their name becomes more a brand than a simple form of recognition.
And that was Foxy.
The larger-than-life redhead dedicated most of his life to country football – as a player, coach and commentator. And even when he was simply telling a few tall football tales over a few tall football ales – every step of the way he left his mark.
And he asked nothing in return.
Which is why the ripple effect from his loss has spread far and wide, to the point it has reduced tough-as-old-boots footballers across the state to tears.
Foxy’s progress was marked by the mateship that followed wherever he went.
Along with the primal roar of the crowd as a ball sailed over the upturned face of the goal umpire; while Foxy kicked it even further from behind the microphone.
Foxy died on August 31 following health complications. He was 65.
Yet he still has the power to bring smiles, even laughter, to the faces of those who heard him, knew him or worked with him.
Including his great mate, and long-time commentary cobber, John ‘JR’ Ryan.
For decades the men, and their names, have been inseparable; brought together by the great game, and still, in JR's mind, partners.
“When you say Foxy you say JR, and when you say JR you say Foxy,” Ryan said.
“25 years of media together and we never had a cross word between us.
“I was talking to him on Friday and he was as good as gold, but he had a turn.
“I'm pretty devastated by it.”
Tributes flowed for Foxy throughout the week, online as well directly to his friends and family. The theme was the same throughout - the football world had lost not only a great mate, but one of its finest servants.
“It's gutted me a fair bit, but the thing that's really touched me is that I've had 40-odd phone calls in the couple of days since it's happened from everyone passing on their regards,” Ryan said.
“Everyone that's rang up over the past couple of days has had their own funny stories as well, and it jogs your memory a bit across the years. We always had a hell of a laugh.
“A real testament to him was the love that he had for his wife and kids and grandkids. As rough as he was on the outside he was full of so much love and generosity.
“He visited hospitals, people who were sick, older people - he was always giving back and he never really spoke about that side of himself, he wasn't doing it to talk about it.”
The bond Foxy and JR had was one that resonated throughout country Victoria, and wherever the duo went laughter always followed.
“Without a shadow of a doubt we were like brothers,” Ryan said.
“What we had was something really special, the banter that we had over the years was something really special.
“When you worked with him you had to keep your guard up because we were always trying to get one up on each other.
“We went to Longwood to call games there, out the back of Bourke, we went everywhere together calling footy. I remember one day at Kyabram where we had to call a game through the slats in the window of the rooms because it was raining so hard.
“We had plenty of funny days too, when we were in the back of a truck or something like that and Foxy would be worried he couldn't get up there with his back, frightened he'd fall over.
“One day we were out filming something for the footy show in Undera and a bee came buzzing past me and whacked him straight between the eyes. His reaction was one of the funniest things I've ever seen, we all lost it.
“Social media has really shown over the past couple of days his popularity, so many people sending their condolences.
“He was a unique bloke, a special bloke and one of my brothers - I've got five brothers and Foxy was my sixth.”
Foxy's time on the field and in the coaches box were of a different era, but his ability to create mates wherever he went means the entire country football community are hurting in the wake of his death.
“He played down in Melbourne and was a really good footballer from all reports, a hard nut and a tough nut,” Ryan said.
“He was in the real old school mould when footballers went out on the field and bashed the crap out of each other for two hours and then sat down and had a few beers together afterwards.”
And it wasn't just JR who had a close bond with Foxy in the media, with journalists across the region always on the lookout for that tuft of red hair bobbing towards them at the footy.
“You'd just see him walk around at a game and he was so good at getting around to everyone in the crowd,” former News sports editor Oliver Caffrey said.
“I remember the first time I met him I was actually at the AFL Victoria Media Awards in 2013.
“I'd only been at The News for probably two weeks at that point but I was lucky enough to snag an invite down to the awards in Melbourne.
“Mike Sheahan was the guest speaker at that certain event and Foxy and JR were just over the moon that one of the greatest footy writers in history was actually speaking at that event.
“They were just so determined to speak to him after the event that they were like little boys at Christmas.
“They did everything they could to get up there and have a chinwag with him, but it didn't matter if it was Mike Sheahan or your local punter at the footy, Foxy was always up for chatting with anyone and would speak to everyone the same way.
“He always came across as this warm, crazy guy, just full of life, full of energy and so funny.”
Caffrey agreed that country football in the region owes a huge debt to Foxy for his work.
“Through the GV Footy Show first and obviously the Shepp News Footy Show he was beamed right around Victoria and globally as he liked to say as well,” Caffrey said.
“He took the GV footy league so far. It was basically him and JR just starting up the footy show, they were so passionate about getting something out.
“They saw an opportunity to film something and they were really pioneers. Going back to 2012/13 when the GV Footy Show first started it was almost unheard of to be filming a country footy show and putting it to air.
“He made an impact on pretty much every single club, not just the GV clubs either but everyone around the region.”
JR always sung Foxy's praises for his work behind the microphone as well, and the duo snared plenty of accolades along the way at One FM, with the Shepparton News and their various incarnations of the Foxy and JR Footy Show.
“I've always said that I think he's the best footy caller in country Victoria, without a doubt,” Ryan said.
“We won nine media awards together across our time with One FM and the Shepp News.
“Once we were up against the Coodabeen Champions and we beat them. That was a real claim to fame for us and Foxy enjoyed that a lot.”
Foxy's family was the only thing he loved in the world more than football, and his wife Lesley, children Leigh and Alicia and their respective partners Nichole and ‘Shooter’ - as well as everyone else in the Fox clan - wanted to thank those who had reached out this week.
“He deserves a real good send off,” Leigh said.
“His reach was just so far, once you were mates with him you were mates for life.
“The phone hasn't stopped all week and it's all been good things. People I haven't spoken to for 25 years have rung up and said they had only been speaking to Foxy recently. He was like that, he was always keeping up with everyone's lives.
“He had been crook for about 15 years, but five years ago they said he could only have 12 months left. He added another four and that's exactly what he was like - always fighting the odds.
“The funeral will be on Tuesday and it will be live-streamed, I reckon no joke we could have had five or six thousand people turn up if it wasn't for COVID.
“He was a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend - and we will all miss him so much.”
When you say JR, you say Foxy - and you will continue to do so, as to speak to the former will be to hear another story about the latter. The decades they spent together demand it.
“It's devastating, but for me personally I thank those who have reached out, it shows how much of an impact Foxy had,” Ryan said.
“He's a man that I'll sorely miss, there wasn't many days where we didn't speak on the phone.
“To Lesley, Leigh and Alicia, you had a wonderful dad and husband.
“So long mate, goodbye to the greatest mate a bloke could ever have.”
Foxy's memory lives on through the various online productions he was involved with. The back catalogue of Foxy and JR Footy Shows can be found here.