Hammies, breaks and stitches: The Aussie football player who hasn't missed a match in 30 years

There are one-club players and then there is Frank Hajncl.

On Sunday the veteran striker runs onto the pitch for his 579th consecutive game for the Sandringham Thirds.

The 55-year-old has racked up a mind-boggling 30 years of unbroken service to his beloved team.

He has an Arsenal tatt on one arm, the gridiron 49ers on the other, but it is Sandringham City Soccer Club inked just above his heart.

“I actually grew up on Aussie Rules but when I was in about Year 5 or 6 I decided I didn’t like getting belted up so I started kicking a soccer ball with a Scottish friend of mine and from then on it became my love,” Frank said.

“I joined Sandringham in 1972 – so this is my 44th season with the same club. Apart from the odd friendly with another club it’s always been Sandringham.”

Frank honoured for 25 years with the Thirds

With his cricket team based at the same venue – RJ Sillitoe Reserve – it means Frank has spent his entire adult life playing at the same ground in the Melbourne beachside surburb.

Even a succession of injuries couldn’t stop him lacing up his boots every winter Sunday since he first lined up for the Thirds in 1985.

A late call-up on the day, he went on to score a hat-trick in a 4-1 win and finish as season top scorer.

Three decades after taking over the reins of the team “for a season or so” he is still at the helm – playing through the pain of broken big toes, two broken wrists, a chronic back complaint, crook ankles, a patchwork of stitches and the inevitable hotchpotch of running repairs.

“I once saw my shinbone following a collision with an opposition keeper, but I bandaged it up and didn’t miss a minute of that game,” he said.

The closest Frank came to missing a match was last year when he tore his hamstring in the second game of the season.

“As luck would have it, the next couple of weeks were byes, so I managed to hobble onto the ground three weeks later to keep the run going,” he said.

A survivor of some 1200 senior games, the Victorian has notched up more than 600 goals across all teams at the club.

He has picked up numerous leading goal scorer awards, several player of the year titles, enjoyed a handful of cup successes and lifted a swag of league trophies.

But, numbers aside, his most memorable moments were sharing the pitch with his daughter, Nikki.

“I had to do some slick talking to convince referees and opponents that she was up to it,” he said.

“Was it strictly legal? Who knows, but we did it”.

The generations have come and gone at Sandringham but one thing Frank knows how to do, above all else, is stick with what he loves.

Billy to his teammates (for his resemblance to Billy Connolly) and Mad Frank to the rest, he was doing what he does best last week – scoring a header for the Thirds.

Yet, even he senses the tides of change.

When he takes to the pitch on Sunday he will be thinking: “Don’t get injured… and get through the game without embarrassing myself entirely.”

He added: “In all honesty, the hamstring injury has slowed my running considerably and I have really struggled to keep up with opponents since then.

“I want to keep going but I don’t want to let my teammates or myself down. I’ll finish out this season, and then I have an entire summer to try to get myself back to the fitness of pre-injury.

“If I’m not up to it, I’ll have a go at (Sandringham’s) Over 45s comp — I’ll be 56 by then, so I think I’ll just about qualify.”

MAIN PHOTO: Frank unleashes in the Mallacoota Cup, courtesy of Renato Fonti
INSET PHOTO: Club President, Kevin Maher and Frank Hajncl, courtesy of FFV