Frank Azzopardi is known to many. He has been cheering on Joeys at the rugby for the past 73 seasons. He never took a class at the College, or stayed a night in one of the dorms, but anyone will tell you: he breathes cerise and blue.
Frank Azzopardi remembers the poplar trees at Shore in 1946, and little else, as he watched his first Joeys Rugby game as a 10-year-old. His memories of 1947, watching from the sidelines with his family, are far clearer.
“It’s marked by this amazing situation,” recalls Mr Azzopardi, then a student of Marist Brothers’ Mark Street School, opposite the St Joseph’s College gates. “St Joseph’s were down 14-12, and the brothers used to have a little table in front of the grandstand and they would ring a bell and notify the referee that time was up. All was lost, so to speak.
“Scots College made a clearing kick from down their end and then this John Kennett, a remarkable centre for St Joseph’s College, fielded this ball and he kicked a field goal right between the posts so that made the final score 16-14 (because in that time a field goal had the value of 4 points).”
The details of that game are recorded in Mr Azzopardi’s treasured Joeys Rugby book, as are the names of every team and the scores of all the games they’ve played in the past 73 years, during which he has missed only one season due to National Service in 1955. “Terry Curley (1955), he played in that 1955 season, and later in the 1970s he became the coach of the First XV, and I told him about this one day, and he said, ‘In spite of you not being there Frank, we still won the comp anyway.’”
Mr Azzopardi also met an Old Boy who had played in that very first game back in 1946, Bernie Carrick. “He wrote a beautiful thing in my book and he said ‘I can still hear the cheering after the game, but I didn’t know Frank was in the crowd.’”
Since 2007, Mr Azzopardi has attended the games sporting the cerise and blue of a Joeys school tie (“people think I’m a little bit of a lair,” he says). That was the year the cherished College supporter was made an Honorary Old Boy, “a singular privilege and honour”.
“I’ve been in a situation to say a few words to the boys, after a game at Riverview that we won in the last few minutes, and I told them about a description of heaven I’d heard made by Malcolm Muggeridge years ago – that heaven will be a crystallisation of a wonderful moment here on earth that we can just grab and hold on to and it won’t, like other lovely things, just disappear; it will be there for always, and that’s what Joeys is all about.
“It’s not only just Rugby, it’s the whole nucleus of my faith – the College, the College Chapel, the Catholic faith and Joeys. As I often say to my wife, if Joeys played marbles I’d still be there.” Mr Azzopardi introduced his wife, Thelma, to Joeys before they were married, in 1956, the year a record 20,000 people watched Joeys on its home ground defeat Kings in the premiership decider. “She was there that day with me,” he remembers. “Then our three girls came along; now I’ve got the grandchildren, and they love the game. Or some of them do …
It’s not only just Rugby, it’s the whole nucleus of my faith – the College, the College Chapel, the Catholic faith and Joeys. As I often say to my wife, if Joeys played marbles I’d still be there.”FRANK AZZOPARDI
In 2018, Frank and his daughter Susan watched the deciding game against Riverview, when ecstatic supporters famously invaded the ground as Joeys, in spectacular fashion, broke a 10-year drought to become season co-premiers. “Just on full time the Riverview boys came toward us and scored a try right in front of us and Susan said, ‘Well that’s done the dash’, and I said, ‘Never mind Susan’, and another lady said, ‘The game isn’t over yet’.
“Then Joeys got the ball from the kick-off and scored up the other end … it was unbelievable.
“I live in Ermington, in a very humble place. I am not pretentious in any way. They make me feel so comfortable here, and it’s a funny thing – I feel very insignificant, I’m just a common old carpenter, but when I come here they make you feel special, and it’s a lovely thing.”