Fred Payne holds a special claim at the Essendon Football Club.
Celebrating his 97th birthday last Sunday, the former Bomber is the club’s oldest living player.
Payne first joined the Bombers in the midst of one of the club’s most successful eras, making his debut in 1949 and playing in 14 consecutive wins to start his career.
A dependable rover and occasional forward, Payne was a member of the club’s winning 1950 Grand Final in the reserves after playing 10 senior games throughout the season.
In 1951, Payne enjoyed a career-best season after appearing in 16 senior games, named the side’s ‘Best Utility Player’ en route to their Grand Final appearance against Geelong.
Despite missing the first two finals through injury and being named on the bench as the ‘20th man’ for the Grand Final, Payne was able to play after ruck John Gill was omitted due to illness.
Amid the controversial absence of star forward John Coleman to suspension and the surprise playing return of coach Dick Reynolds, Payne would boot a goal as the Dons fell to the Cats by 11 points.
After stints with Hawthorn’s reserves and Kyneton in 1954, Payne returned to Essendon’s reserves for the 1955 and 1956 seasons before eventually finishing his playing career at local club Ardmona.
A policeman by trade during his playing days, Payne retired from duty in 1986 as a Senior Sergeant after more than 33 years with the Victoria Police.
With the Bombers in Shepparton for their community camp earlier this week, current players Harry Jones, Dyson Heppell, and Matt Guelfi (custodian of Payne’s old No.35 jumper) paid a visit to Payne in celebration of his 97th birthday.
Payne was thrilled to see the trio in a welcome recall of the memories from his days in red and black.
"I remember filling in for John Coleman while he was on representative duties one game" Payne said.
"I kicked a couple early goals but then the supply dried up and I hard touched the ball the rest of the game".
The opportunity to commemorate Payne was an exciting one for Heppell, who cited the club’s willingness to pay homage to its past players.
It was great to reconnect and see a bit of a tear in his eye". Heppell said.
"You could still see the pride that he had from representing the club, he wore No.35 and Matt Guelfi wears that now so he was pretty chuffed about that".