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Gary Ablett, Jr and Frank Costa

Just as Round Seven was concluded, the footy community was mourning the death of game and Geelong icon Frank Costa. Costa, 83. succumbed to cancer. Costa, a successful businessman in the fruit and vegetable industry, assumed the presidency of Geelong in 1998 when the club was virtually on its knees - badly in debt and without any finals success in decades. Under his leadership, the debt was all but erased, the club became a dominant powerhouse and again tasted premiership success in 2007 and 2009. When he stepped down and handed the reins over to Colin Carter in 2010, the club was in a very strong position both on and off the field, going on to win the 2011 premiership. He is also responsible for bringing in current CEO Brian Cook and former coach Mark Thompson. At one point the trio made a pact that they would remain until the Cats won a premiership. Under his guidance, the club's home ground - GMBHA Stadium - was revitalized, upgraded, and expanded. 

AFL chairman Richard Goyder said, “Frank Costa had the strongest of values around service, loyalty, hard work, and dedication, which he applied to every part of his life. He was a wonderful role model in business who worked to support the wider Geelong community through a range of philanthropic interests, while his fabulous passion for the Geelong Cats saw him commit thousands of hours of his time over many years to ensure the club was a respected and strong part of our national competition. He was a strong family man, with his devotion to his wife Shirley and eight daughters, and he will be terribly missed by our football community and all who knew him.”

Columnist Damien Barrett, who contributes to, wrote in part, "... he may have been, quite possibly was, the single biggest influence on the mid-2000s rebirth of the Geelong Football Club. To Costa, the Cats' success ... was always based on the collective where no one was bigger than the next person ... the real heroes were those central to game day - Gary Ablett, Joel Selwood, Mark Thompson, Stevie Johnson, Matty Scarlett, Jimmy Bartel, Tom Harley, Paul Chapman, Corey Enright, Cameron Ling, and so many others. Costa never had a kick, dished off a handball or took a mark but as Cats president from 1998, he galvanized not just the Geelong Football Club but the Geelong community. When (then coach) ... Gary Ayres walked out ... and went to Adelaide, Costa took a breath, assessed all options, and properly started the rebuild ...Everything Costa did for Geelong - club and community - was done with humility and care. And that was always most important to him. The success he led was merely a by-product of what really mattered to him."

Shortly before he passed away... he was notified of his induction as a Geelong legend, becoming the 26th person and the first non-player to receive the honor. CEO Brian Cook said, “Frank was a legend as a person and a legend of the club. He forged so many strong and lasting relationships through his warmth and authenticity. He will be missed by all that have been fortunate enough to know and love him.” Costa also was awarded the Officer of the Order of Australia (AO), Order of Australia Medal (OAM), Australian Sports Medal (2001), and Centenary Medal (2001).

Former Collingwood president Eddie McGuire paid tribute to Costa, describing his rebuild of GMHBA Stadium and the City of Geelong, “at a time when Geelong was going nowhere”, as one of the Costa’s most profound achievements, "Frank is one of the most generous and successful community business people I ever had the pleasure of dealing with. His contribution to the City of Geelong is incomparable. His rebuilding of the Geelong Football Club, literally, figuratively, and spiritually, is one of the greatest impacts AFL football has ever seen. It was a regular occurrence to get a phone call from Frank saying, ‘Ed, we’re helping guys who are in jail, can you come down and speak to them, can you bring a couple of Collingwood boys down?’ He was always looking to benefit the community and ... he was able to be a pillar of strength and virtue in Geelong and also in the fruit and vegetable game.”

Former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou said Costa’s legacy was about much more than premierships, "He was a giant of a man, a giant of Geelong, a great contributor to the community and just a wonderful person. He did so much to bring Geelong back to the fore ... not just the club but the whole City of Geelong. He didn’t just win premierships, he almost brought Geelong back together again, based on the back of a football team and a whole community getting behind the club and the redevelopment of the club three times. His impact was profound.”
Hawthorn president Jeff Kennett said, “He was the most wonderful human being. What he stood for stands as a wonderful example in this so commercial, politicized world of what human beings can achieve if their value set is right. When Frank departed as president at the end of 2010 he left the club with state-of-the-art facilities, a record-breaking team that had broken a premiership drought in 2007 and added another flag in 2009, and on a financial footing that set the club up for long term stability, Without Frank, there must be a genuine question as to whether or not the Geelong Football Club would exist today. It is highly doubtful it would exist in its current form without having had Frank at the helm. When the history of the club is written, it will be impossible to do so without having Frank at the forefront ... He took a divided club and willed it into the club we know today.”

Geelong champion Joel Selwood praised Costa for his generosity of spirit, giving particular thanks for his help when he became captain at the age of 23. Costa was president when Selwood was drafted in 2006, but had left the board by the time he took over from Cameron Ling as skipper in 2012. Selwood said Costa was always there for advice and guidance as he forged his own path in football, “He was great with me from the word go, but especially when I became a young captain. Just looking out for me, helping me along ... I used to go to his offices ... once a month and it was all about me. As much as I would try to make it about Frank, he would just be all about helping me. He had an interest in me before then, and he was just a good man who kept finding time in ... a busy schedule. He just wanted the footy club to do well and for Geelong the city to do well. He knew how much the footy club could do for the rest of the town and he had an extraordinary vision, and we just can’t do that justice ...  his impact on the whole football club and community was enormous.”

Costa made an emotional visit to GMHBA Stadium earlier this year to visit the playing group, which Selwood said was a sad but special day for the Cats, “Cooky brought him down to training ... and it was quite sad ... Frank was battling away but he wanted to get down to the footy club ... they were supposed to hang around for 20 minutes but Geelong put on a 35-degree (appx 91 F) day and Frank stayed for about an hour. He just loved being at the footy club and I remember thinking when he left it might be his last time at the footy club. In what was already an emotional time it got a bit teary again for a number of people and I am sure that was a tough day for Cooky, too.”

Former Geelong captain Tom Harley (now currently Sydney CEO) had recently caught up with Costa for a coffee to thank the former Cats president, whom he described as a great man, “He was obviously very driven and self-motivated and his life centered around his family, his footy and his faith ... He was very much a values-based person in the way he led his family, the way he led his business and the way he led the footy club. Any of us who passed through the halls of Geelong under Frank can be extremely grateful for the experience and the lessons we learnt along the way, and ... any successes or opportunities post our time at Geelong can have a pretty straight line drawn back to the leadership of the club at the time and Frank sat at the top of all of that. He was just a titan of the industry, a titan of the club and a titan of the town, and someone I am forever grateful that I was able to form a relationship with.”

Costa was also one of Victoria’s richest men thanks to the family business he helped build from a single store. His family emigrated from Italy in the late 19th century and bought a fruit shop which Costa then purchased in 1959. He and his brother Adrian into a national wholesale empire.  The Costa Group became a major supplier in the 1990's. There was a story that his life was once threatened when he refused a million dollar bribe from a criminal organization that wanted to set up an extortion racket to inflate prices of produce. 

The Costa Group is now worth over a billion dollars and operates in Australia, China, Hong Kong, Spain, and Morocco, employing about 6000 staff. He retired from the board in 2019 but he and his family remain large shareholders. 

Costa was also a noted philanthropist in and around Geelong, involved in a number of charities. He and his wife established the Frank and Shirley Costa fund for the Geelong Community Foundation. A spokesperson for the Barwon Health Foundation said Mr. Costa's " ... generosity and leadership will always be admired. Frank's legacy will live on in the spirit of Geelong, always. ".

Twitter was full of tributes. Here are a few:

Jeff Kennett: "With the death of Frank Costa a wonderful human being has departed.
Great values, to his large family my condolences. The City of Geelong and its community will forever be in his debt"

K rock Football (Geelong radio station): "This morning Geelong lost its most influential icon. Vale Frank Costa. Thank you for what you contributed to this city"

Dr Peter Larkins: "RIP Frank Costa - an absolutely true Geelong club legend & family friend - so lucky to have him in my life - condolences to Shirley & all the wonderful Costa clan"

Stephen Quartermain: "Vale Frank Costa. What a man. Geelong will never quite be the same"

Lachie Young (North Melbourne player): "There have been few, if any, people who have contributed as much to the off-field success of the Geelong Football Club as Frank Costa. The Cats were on their knees in the late-90s and with Brian Cook he transformed them into one of the strongest organisations in the country. RIP"



Article last changed on Wednesday, May 05, 2021 - 12:37 AM EDT

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