If you’re a sporting fans, you likely saw the scenes emerge from the SCG on Friday night. The field that was once only populated by players, physiotherapists, the odd coach and referees, was instead populated by countless fans all flocking to get a glimpse of Buddy Franklin in the flesh. Fans all swarmed around the star player, recognising the significance of the occasion as Franklin entered the annals of AFL history as just the sixth man to kick 1,000 career AFL/VFL goals. Play was held up for more than half an hour as a result of the pandemonium descending on the pitch, but nobody seemed to care – this was an occasion worthy of celebration.
But for one fan in particular, the night was made even more special after he caught Franklin’s goal ball in the stands. Swans fan Alex Wheeler made the lucrative catch on Friday night. Video footage emerged on social media of him falling into the row of seats in front of him as he attempted to make the catch, only to surface later with the prized possession. He said, “When Buddy marked the ball he was about 10 [metres] inside the 50. I did a bit of quick maths and realised I’m probably 10 or 15 from the fence, so I thought [I was a] really big chance.”
Wheeler added, “From that point on there were so many people rushing to the fence, which sort of probably helped me get to the ball – everyone was filming. I almost felt like I was the only guy throwing the paw out to get it. Just unbelievable that I had the chance to have a crack at it, it just landed in the paw and the rest is history.”
Wheeler held onto the ball and even entered the field along with the rest of the fans, only to exit the stadium later as he headed home to stash the ball in a safe place: his cupboard. When the Swans appealed to audience members to return the ball, proposing a meeting with whoever had possession of it with Franklin himself, Wheeler decided against selling it. At a press conference at the SCG, he said he always intended on returning the valuable piece of memorabilia which some have now estimated to have a six-figure value.
“I had a few stubbies that night and went to the pub after but got paranoid that someone would get it from my house so went home pretty early,” he said. “It was always my intention to get it back to the Swans and Buddy. It’s going to be no good to me. I don’t have a pool room to put it up unfortunately. It was good to get in contact with the Swans and get it back to them.”
Meeting Franklin in person, the AFL star was quick to thank Wheeler for giving back the ball which “means the world” to him. “It’s nice of Alex to give the ball back,” said Franklin. “I haven’t had too much time to reflect on it just yet but obviously it was a significant moment. I absolutely loved it. It was a really special night – to see so many Swans supporters out here, especially with what happened the last couple of years with Covid, to have a packed stadium was very special and then to kick the goal was awesome.”
Franklin added, “You could feel it, really, kicking those three goals, you feel the crowd coming down early in the fourth, and then I was lucky enough for Horse [coach John Longmire] to put me back on the ground.”