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Australia’s oldest footballer Neil Rainbow still plays at 76 for Bega-Tathra in AFL Sapphire Coast comp

Australia’s oldest footballer Neil Rainbow still plays at 76 for Bega-Tathra in AFL Sapphire Coast comp

Australia’s oldest footballer Neil Rainbow still plays at 76 for Bega-Tathra in AFL Sapphire Coast comp

It’s a cold Tuesday evening in Tathra on the New South Wales South Coast, but the howling wind and wet ground won’t stop 76-year-old Neil Rainbow from heading to football training.

Known to teammates simply as Rainbow, he was born in 1948, with the AFL confirming he is the oldest person still playing senior football in Australia.

Now lining up with Bega-Tathra in the AFL’s Sapphire Coast competition, Rainbow has played nearly a thousand games since falling in love with the sport as a child in Melbourne, hitting newspaper balls and rubber bands.

A schoolboy in a blazer and tie uniform smiles at the camera in a black and white photo

Rainbow played football at school in Melbourne.(given)

“I played street football on the asphalt,” he says.

“There were a lot of marked knees and elbows.”

After representing school teams and junior teams in the suburbs for years, Rainbow said he received interest from VFL and VFA clubs before eventually joining the amateurs in Coburg.

Once in her mid-40s, Rainbow had the “great honor” of donning the Big V, joined the Victorian Metro side at the masters carnivals and has so far won 10 national titles.

A man in a blue and white Big V leg jumper holds a medal and trophy

Rainbow has had a lot of success on and off the field.(Provided by: Shirley Rixon)

“Good legs” and “dodging boys”

Arriving on the NSW Far South Coast in his 50s, Rainbow was determined to maintain his senior football career and went on to play for almost every club in the local league, starting with the Merimbula Marlins.

“I thought if I could play one game in the Sapphire Coast AFL that would be great,” he says.

“There was little criticism – what is the old man doing there?”

But Rainbow overcame criticism and a broken leg in 2004 to play more than 200 games in the competition.

An elderly man in a jumper and brown shorts runs with an Aussie Rules football, with team mates and opponents behind

Rainbow doesn’t shy away from a contest, even against much younger opponents.(Provided by: Shirley Rixon)

Rainbow’s teammates are in awe of his efforts, but they won’t be surprised to see the “greatest of all time” playing for many seasons to come.

“If anyone can, it’s Rainbow,” says teammate Lachlan Ellard.

“He is the man, he is the GOAT.

“For a man of that age, I tell you, he’s got some good legs on him.”

A group of men in brown football uniforms stare at the camera

Rainbow stands out in the Bega-Tathra senior men’s team.(Provided by: Shirley Rixon)

Bega-Tathra captain Jack McMahon says it is a “huge achievement” that Rainbow is still part of the club.

“Especially for how fit he is, and his skills are still 100 percent,” he says.

“He’s great in training, he gets around the guys a lot, he tells us all his stories and we really get to know him.”

A young man in a red and black shirt smiles at the camera

Bega-Tathra Captain Jack McMahon says Rainbow’s skills are still up to scratch.(ABC South East NSW: Floss Adams)

“Doing What He’s Always Done”

Chartered physiologist Kathy Devonshire-Gill says Rainbow’s story is “warming”.

“The fact that it has always done this means it has the ability to continue to do this,” says Dr Devonshire-Gill.

“If someone is just starting out, it would be very important to start gradually, get the doctor’s blessing on this… and work slowly.

“But with Neil, he’s doing what he’s always done.”

A man dressed in a black and red Aussie Rules jumper stands in front of an oval with legs

Retiring from the game has yet to cross Rainbow’s mind.(ABC South East NSW: Floss Adams)

Although older athletes need to be very careful about dehydration and the risk of injury, Dr Devonshire-Gill says there are many positives associated with playing sport.

“What has been widely reported in the literature is the social benefits of being involved in sport,” she says.

“Sport brings people together.”

And that has long been true of Rainbow.

“The friendships we’ve made … you can’t beat that,” he says.

A man in a red and black soccer uniform kicks a Sherrin

Rainbow scored his side’s first goal in a recent clash with Bermagui.(Provided by: Shirley Rixon)

“Too young” to retire

While Rainbow is used to playing with teammates up to six decades his junior, he will get the chance to compete against players his own age in the first exhibition game for over 70 years at the AFL Masters National Carnival in Fremantle, later this year. .

And although he will turn 77 on the eve of next season, he has no plans to hang up his boots just yet.

“Too young for that right now,” says Rainbow.

“I don’t feel old.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do things.

“You gotta live life…because life can be short.”

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