SANFL is mourning the passing of Port Adelaide premiership player Eric Freeman.
SANFL History Centre volunteer and author of Man for all Seasons – the Eric Freeman Story, David Jenkins, penned Eric’s obituary below.
Eric Walter Freeman (Port Adelaide Football Club, Port Adelaide Cricket Club)
13 July, 1944 – 14 December, 2020
PAFC: 1964 – 72 (116 games, 390 goals)
PACC: 1964-65 – 1984-85 (135 games)
Eric Walter Freeman was yet another sporting product of Woodville High School, like his mentor Neil Hawke. Given his obvious talents and his ultimate career, it is surprising, perhaps, that his elevation was so meteoric. A 5’7” back-pocket player and premiership winner for Exeter Colts, a growth spurt over the summer of 1961-62 saw a 6’1” key forward turn out for Semaphore Centrals in ‘A1’ amateur league the following winter. After only three games he was chosen in the SA state amateur team for the carnival in Melbourne.
Quickly snapped up by Port Adelaide, Freeman played in a SANFL Reserves premiership in 1963 before making his league debut in 1964. In keeping with his rapid rise in all things, Freeman made his state debut for SA in 1965 (vs Victoria at the MCG) which included being a member of the SA team which beat Victoria in Adelaide. He also kicked six goals in a win over Tasmania which followed the Melbourne clash.
In his eight seasons with the Magpies (he missed 1969 completely because of cricket), Eric Freeman played in six SANFL Grand Finals (missing only in 1970, ‘72) but could manage just one senior ‘flag’, 1965. Even that was a near thing as Sturt kicked the last five goals of the game to lose by only three points. It was Freeman who had kicked Port’s final goal, early in the last quarter, to allow the win and the premiership.
On the cricket field, Freeman played schoolboys cricket for Port Adelaide but when he graduated to ‘C’ Grade he was the team’s wicketkeeper. That changed when a fast bowler failed to appear for the semi-final and the skipper threw the ball to Eric. Amazingly, the resulting 7/50 and 7/62, coupled with 81 from his bat, was not enough for the Magpies to win the match. The following week he was promoted to the ‘B’ Grade for their Grand Final and scored 128 in the premiership win.
The following season, 1964-65, five ‘A’ Grade matches was enough for Freeman to be elevated to Sheffield Shield cricket. He toured New Zealand with the Australian ‘Second XI’ in 1966-67, was selected for the 1968 Ashes tour and the famous ‘double tour’ to India and South Africa in 1969-70. In 1968, against Northamptonshire, Freeman took the team’s first ‘five for’ and scored the first century (116) in his first innings of the tour.
Freeman eventually played eleven Test matches for Australia but his finest moment came in 1970-71 when, in the final match of the season, he took 5/41 and 8/64 against NSW in Adelaide to clinch the Sheffield Shield for South Australia. He went into the game with a dodgy knee and bowled the second innings with a torn hamstring. It was a performance of sheer willpower and Freeman never doubted he could make a contribution.
It was the essence of Eric Freeman, outwardly friendly and approachable, but inbuilt with a natural, fierce determination on the sporting field. Even on his rare bad days with the Port Adelaide Magpies, Freeman was never downbeat. It was always, ‘You get the ball to me, I’ll kick the goal’.
Of course, despite his prodigious achievements on the field which today could never be replicated, it wasn’t always easy being Eric Freeman. He would have happily cancelled his sporting career if it meant the premature death of his son, David, and that of his grandson, Matthew, a few years later, would also have been avoided. Now Eric is gone and it hardly seems possible. It certainly doesn’t seem fair, particularly to his wife Diane and daughter Michelle who, surely, have suffered enough.