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Former SANFL and VFL (now AFL) player Neil Sachse passed away on August 26 at the age of 69 after a short undisclosed illness. He played 89 games and kicked 114 goals for North Adelaide in five seasons from 1970 to 1974, was a member of their 1971 premiership team and represented South Australia on five occasions. He missed the 1972 premiership but played in the side that defeated Carlton to be crowned Champions of Australia that year.

He crossed to Footscray (now Western Bulldogs) in 1975 but played just two games before tragedy struck. During a game against Fitzroy, he was running with the ball when he stumbled just as an opposing player was coming toward him. His head collided hard with the player. His spinal cord was severed and he became a quadriplegic. The injury shocked the football community and led to greater awareness and protocols regarding spinal and head injuries.

In a 2016 interview, he said he refused to feel sorry for himself or let it get him down, "Having a positive attitude was part of my solution ... By drowning in my sorrows, others around me would drown. By being happy within myself I knew that other people would follow." He put that attitude to work, spending the rest of his life raising money for research into cord injuries and became an advocate for people with disabilities as well as a voice for ensuring the game remained safe for players.. In 1994, the Neil Sachse Foundation was established. In 2017, the Neil Sachse Center for Spinal Cord Research became part of South Australia's Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI).

SANFL CEO Jake Parkinson said Sachse was a wonderful player. According to Parkinson, after the tragic accident, Sachse became "... a pioneer, committed and tenacious in his pursuit for research and understanding of spinal injuries ... ". North Adelaide released a statement saying they and the football community "... salutes a truly wonderful person who will be dearly missed."

South Australia's Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) said " ... his zest for life and infectious positivity would be dearly missed." Director Professor Steve Wesselingh described Sachse as a larger-than-life personality, "Since the Neil Sachse Centre for Spinal Cord Research joined SAHMRI ...we've all seen and marveled at his work ethic and determination to have a positive impact for society generally, but in particular those who are living with spinal cord injury."

In 2009, Sachse was presented with the Premier's Award for Outstanding Community Achievement in South Australia and in 2015 he released his biography, Playing On, co-written with ABC journalist Michael Sexton. Sachse is survived by his wife and two children.


Article last changed on Friday, January 15, 2021 - 12:09 AM EST


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