Few people knew the late great Andrew Symonds like Steve Fitzsimmons.
In 1989, when a ‘big gangly fella’ arrived at All Saints on the Gold Coast and picked up a cricket bat, almost everyone knew this 13-year-old was destined for greatness.
Symonds’ dad, Ken, had been employed at the newly-founded school and moved his family 1400km south from Charters Towers in Far North Queensland.
Steve said it quickly became clear the new kid in town was a cricket star in the making.
“I remember in year eight or year nine, we had a 300-run partnership,” Fitzsimmons said to Foxsports.com.au.
“I scored 25, he scored the f**king rest and I could not hit it off the square, and this guy is hitting sixes, he was destined, you know what I mean, he was just destined.
“We were 13, in arts class, he had a deal with (cricket brand) Duncan Fearnley and he was saying to me ‘Fitzy, how does this signature look?’.
“That was just the way it was, you know… he was just a cut above everyone else.
“Everyone at All Saints knew he was destined, and his dad had a massive role to play, Ken would throw balls and balls and balls after school.
“Everyone knew he was just on the path to greatness.”
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The pair got up to plenty mischief like many boys who’s passions resided outside of the classroom after the duo cemented themselves as best mates.
It is well documented Symonds had a passion for fishing and the outdoors, one that was clearly birthed in his early years.
“I remember biology, we had a sub teacher, he was a mad fisherman. (Symonds) said to me ‘Fitzy, go outside and get some bait’, so I would run to the nearest lunch-box, get some bread.
“He pulled his diary apart, took the staple out, took a button off his shirt, took the thread, rigged up a line.
“It was the bread, a staple, the shirt off his back, threw it in and we snagged the biggest f**king goldfish, in biology class.
“He threw it in, this thing is flashing around, the teacher is just looking, thinking you dumbass.”
As the pair grew older, it was clear they were both destined for professional sport.
Symonds debuted for Queensland in the 1993/94 summer, while Fitzsimmons carved his way to a career on the soccer field.
Fitzsimmons kicked off his career in the NSL with the Parramatta Power, moving south to Sydney and bouncing around clubs before joining Gold Coast United, competing in the A-League from 2009 to 2011.
But throughout their respective careers, the duo remained close mates.
Fitzsimmons remembers one specific night in 2002 — Symonds had just been picked in Australia’s World Cup squad after a poor run of form.
“Before he got selected for the World Cup in 2002, we used to go out a fair bit in Sydney,” Fitzsimmons said.
“We went out with me, him, Warney and Andy Bichel, I remember him going ‘I should not be going to this World Cup’.
“He should never have gone, but Ricky was his biggest fan, and it is funny, when someone believes in you, and Ricky was the biggest believer in him and he paid it off.
“That was his breakout, and it justified Ricky’s decision to stand by him, when 90 per cent of the country thought he shouldn’t have been on that trip.
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“It was almost like a captain’s pick, who do you want to come and Rick backed him to the hilt.”
After that tournament, Symonds became Australia’s golden boy, scoring a staggering 326 runs from five innings with a batting average of 163.
To open the tournament the swashbuckling batsmen scored 143 not out in arguably his finest innings.
Then Symonds again backed up his 2003 showing, proving it was no fluke by contributing in key moments as Australia won again in 2007.
“I reckon there was three or four years when he was absolutely elite, he was the face of cricket, but I think he struggled, as much as his image of everything was the forefront of the game, he would struggle with it,” Fitzsimmons said.
“He really did, like we would go to places and sit for a beer, people would come up and he would struggle with the adulation, he struggled with people that come up and said ‘you are the best’.
“He just did what he did, it was a weird situation where it was just him.”
Symonds was thrust into the limelight and became almost every Australian’s favourite all-rounder, but that wasn’t what he was about.
“He never understood (the fame), he played cricket just to play cricket, he never understood there was a country that idolised him,” Fitzsimmons said.
“He was comfortable with playing the game, but wasn’t comfortable with the adulation that came with it.
“People get into the game for different things, there are probably guys that get in because they want to be known for something, but he just wanted to play cricket.
“From day dot, his old man used to throw the ball down, he was destined to do what he did, there are obviously people who want accolades, but he didn’t, he just wanted to play the game.”
After his success at the peak of the cricketing world, Fitzsimmons explained there was still no arrogance about his mate.
So much so he didn’t feel the need to ask about cricket — they just remained good mates in the purest form.
“The thing is with Andy, he didn’t take anything home, I’d be like ‘how are you mate’, he’d say ‘good, good’, I’d ask how are you doing with your cricket, he’d say ‘yeah, not bad’,” Fitzsimmons said.
“He would take nothing home, I wanted to ask so much more about cricket, but he is my mate, I don’t need to delve into that side of it, I am just happy he would just… it was a weird correlation.”
Following the 2007 World Cup, the infamous ‘Monkeygate’ scandal took place on Australia’s tour of India.
Harbhajan Singh allegedly sledged Symonds, which flared tempers to the point where Ponting and Tendulkar had to get involved.
After that moment, and the subsequent Adelaide Federal Court case, Symonds was lost as a cricketer by the Australian team. The lack of support he felt dampened his spirit and ruined his drive to perform for his country.
Symonds lived off simple principles — back me up and I will do the same.
But he felt like Cricket Australia never did.
“That dented him big time, he felt like he had dragged his mates through the mud and the ACB didn’t back him, after that happened I remember going out to his and he said ‘f**k, I can’t do this anymore’,” Fitzsimmons said.
“I put my arse on the line, I dragged my mates through the mud, the ACB felt like India was more important than him.
“It hurt him, the ACB didn’t back him and he resented that situation for a long time.
“He resented the game, it is funny, it is a game you have loved for so long as a young guy, you hit the top and then the game that you have served so well, it doesn’t pay you back.”
Symonds fell out of love with the game and eventually gave it up, retiring in February 2012.
Symonds finished his career with 1462 Test runs at an average of 40.61, 5088 ODI runs at 39.44 and 337 T20I runs at 48.14.
He also took 165 wickets across all formats.
But Fitzsimmons always believed he could have done more.
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“In my heart, I think he could have achieved more, but look at his whole career, he was a machine,” Fitzsimmons said.
“I spoke to him and he probably left the game earlier than he should have, but that is due to circumstance, but as an all-round athlete in cricket, I am not sure we have seen any better.
“He was just a simple human, he didn’t give a f**k, he had no care for material things or what he was, he was a humble guy.
“He was just such a humble man, and in hindsight he had achieved so much in the game, but he just didn’t care.
“He was just a different beast.”
Post-cricket Symonds spent his time outdoors, fishing and enjoying time with his family and his dogs.
Upon reflection after his untimely death, Fitzsimmons said there was always one thing he wished he could have done.
“We spent heaps of time together, after he left he was living on the Goldy, then went to Townsville, we spent lots of time together just pondering what do you want to do with your life,” Fitzsimmons said.
“He had the luxury of the IPL, and floating in and out of things.
“But he probably found himself recently with the commentary, he was quite good, he was witty.
“But I don’t think deep down he loved cricket, that is my opinion completely though.
“I don’t think he was a big purist of cricket, when I asked who he liked he just always went to guys who sort of mimicked his style, like Chris Lynn, but he wasn’t a cricket purist.”
“But when it comes to playing, it is different when you take the field with a mate, I envy the boys like Haydos and everyone who went into battle with him.
“Like he said to me numerous times he respected what I did, but I never went out on the field with him, I was never at the level, but I look at the guys like Haydos and Gilly and I sit there and think you went into battle at the highest level with your mate.
“There is no better feeling and I would have loved to do that with him.”
Despite the adulation and praise, Symonds would always come back and see his mate and was always the same person.
The down-to-earth, Aussie bloke, who the nation came to love for his talents with a bat and ball in hand, or his shoulder charge of a wayward streaker.
Just like the rest of Australia, Fitzsimmons couldn’t help but look up to his mate.
“That is what he was like, there was no judgement or I am king s**t, I’d say to him what is it like, and he would say ‘it is the best of the best’ but it was never like you are inferior,” Fitzsimmons said.
“I feel like I had a different friendship with him, I was in awe of what he was doing, I looked up to him.”
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