Matt Naylor, the flag bearer for one of the most recognised names in Illawarra football, will run down his “home” race at Tarrawanna Oval for the final time on Saturday.
The moment comes as the 41-year-old draws the curtains on his Men’s Premiership career which has spanned 25 seasons, in the vicinity of 500 games and touched four individual decades.
The Blueys will celebrate Naylor’s career when Tarrawanna hosts Bellambi – the side he made his debut against in 1996 – on the club’s annual Old Boys and Ladies Day.
No one has watched Naylor kick a football more often than his father, David, the current secretary of Tarrawanna and the coach who subbed him on against the Rosellas on August 10, 1996, when the then 16-year-old scored the winning goal.
“Matt is a player that no matter where he plays or what grade he is playing – he always gives 100 percent,” David said.
“He gives everything, he is a workhorse with a never say die attitude and he is a 90-minute player.
“He has been fortunate with injuries. He has been big on things from a fitness point of view. He has always given 100 percent on the training paddock as well as on a Saturday afternoon.”
Naylor began his career as a tenacious winger before being converted into an up-and-down fullback under Adrian Alston at Bulli – where he joined in 2007 and spent nine seasons and tasted league championship success.
Naylor is the grandson of George Naylor, one of the founding figures of the Premier League. The Naylor family has a deep connection with Illawarra football, but no where is that connection stronger than at Tarrawanna.
“Matt had a number of seasons at Bulli, but Tarrawanna is always where he called home,” David said.
“It has a lot to do with the family being heavily involved in the club. I played and coached at Tarrawanna before moving into an official capacity. My wife Margot is a life member and ran the canteen for many years. My brother Steven was president here for many years and my brother Andrew played for the club.
“[Saturday] will be a bit sad actually. We will have to wait for his son to come along and maybe we will get Taj to carry on the tradition.”
Fellow Tarrawanna stalwart Darren Stone has played alongside Naylor for a majority of the latter’s time at the Blueys as well as a season in the English lower leagues with Taunton Town.
Stone described his teammate as a “leader” within the Tarrawanna dressing room and is anticipating a big crowd to cheer him off on Saturday.
“He has always been quite shy so when he does say something people listen,” Stone said.
“He is much respected and when it comes to on the field he is more actions than words and he is a leader in that way.
“Tarrawanna Oval should be how it was in the old days. Lots of past players should be there as it coincides with Old Boys Day so I would be surprised if there weren’t 500 people there for him.”
Stone put to bed any suggestions he was also going to retire, however, he admitted it was an “end of an era”.
“It is like an era is coming to an end,” Stone said.
“I have played with him in Australia and in England and we have shared a lot of memories on and off the field.
“We do our little warm-up together at training before training starts so that might be a lonely event next season.
“I am not going to retire yet because I don’t want to be walking off in his shadow.”
The match against Bellambi kicks off on Saturday at 2.30pm with Naylor’s final Men’s Premiership game coming in round 22 away to Corrimal.
Feature by Dylan Arvela, on Twitter @dylanarvela
Photos by Graham Brown, on Instagram @gragrapix