In the 22 years since Brian Shelton made the 800km round-trip from the small Gippsland town of Swifts Creek to watch the Melbourne Phoenix in their debut Commonwealth Bank Trophy season, he has not missed a Phoenix or Vixens’ home game.
Truly. Not one.
Shelton lives considerably closer now than what he explains was "an hour inland from Lakes Entrance", having moved to Melbourne following his retirement in 2005. But, for eight seasons from 1998, that meant an awful lot of petrol bought and time spent on the road.
“It certainly was,’’ says Shelton. “Two or three motor cars got worn out.’’
The 78-year-old’s passion for the game has not faltered, however, and if one year-old Scarlett Hermans (the daughter of cheer squad leader Harry and his wife Leesa) is the youngest Vixens member being celebrated during Member Recognition Round, then Shelton is at the other end of the age spectrum.
Did he know he was the oldest Vixens’ member? “No, but it’s probably quite possible.’’
Fact, actually, and it all began back in 1991 when a young(er) Brian saw ABC-TV’s broadcast of the famous world championship final in which Australia snatched a dramatic one-goal win over New Zealand in Sydney.
“I just said to myself that if I ever got a chance, I’d go to one of those games,’’ he recalls.
“I think it was Australia playing Jamaica or one of the West Indian teams at the old Glasshouse a couple of years later, and I walked out hooked.
“I don’t know. I just enjoyed it. I still enjoy it.’’
Shelton's favourite player among “so many’’ over the journey was the mercurial Simone McKinnis OAM, the current Vixens’ coach, for her ability to shine so brightly playing in one of the less glamorous positions: wing defence.
Despite not giving the standard answer - Sharelle McMahon - there is plenty of admiration for the current Vixens’ assistant, too. “Sharelle, well, she was the best at the other end,’’ Shelton says, simply.
He remembers fondly the five Phoenix premierships, as well as the Vixens’ ANZ Championship triumphs in 2009 and 2014.
The highlight: “I really don’t know. Probably the first one (in 1997), because it was the first one for me. There has been so many, and you enjoy so much. When you get to my age, you forget a lot!’’
Of the current crop, Shelton enthuses “I like ‘em all, actually’’.
The team manager for the Parkville Lightning team in the Monday night competition at the State Netball & Hockey Centre has had a long association with Melbourne University Lightning in the Bupa VNL, and he recalls a young Emily Mannix making the long trip from the Bellarine Peninsula to play for the Lightning’s 19/U team.
The state league involvement came about through veteran Geelong-based coach Joy Grubb, whom Shelton met at a national championships carnival in Perth back in the 1990s. Grubb, in her early 80s, has only just retired from coaching in the GDFL. Remarkable.
Shelton, of course, will be at Melbourne Arena on Monday to watch the Vixens in the first, highly-anticipated instalment of “The Battle” against the Magpies - the ardent fan was satisfied with last weekend’s fine performance on the Sunshine Coast after a draw and a loss in the preceding weeks.
Shelton attends each Vixens home game on his own but regards his fellow members as an extended family of sorts. Netball is not just a part of his life, he says. “It’s probably the biggest part, nowadays.’’