A FOOTY lover, a genuine bloke and a joker — the tributes flowed yesterday for Merrivale senior football coach Stephen “Jack” Kelson, whose death has stunned the local footy community.
The 41-year-old guided Merrivale in Saturday’s loss against Russells Creek in round three Warrnambool and District league action.
He died in the early hours of yesterday morning, with the cause of death believed to be a heart attack.
Merrivale president Paul Fish was devastated by the loss.
“He presented our best players last night (Saturday) and everything was fine,” Mr Fish said yesterday.
“It’s just a real shock to the Merrivale Football Netball Club and the Merrivale community. Stephen’s been around the club for a long time.
“He’s a past premiership coach and a premiers and champions coach.”
Mr Fish described Mr Kelson as a great person to have around the club.
“He was a genuine bloke who loved a laugh and loved a good a time,” he said.
“He loved his footy and always wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to footy.”
Mr Fish offered condolences to Mr Kelson’s wife Narelle and children Liam, Caitlyn, Asha, Rhyz and Riley.
“Our thoughts are with Narelle and the kids and (Stephen’s father) Jack and the family at this hard time,” he said.
“We support them and give them our best wishes in this time of need.”
The Tigers will try and keep to their routine in what will be an emotional week for the club, which takes on Deakin University at Mortlake next Saturday. “We’ll offer all our players counselling and we’ll just stick together as a club and help each other out,” Mr Fish said.
The club will decide who will take over coaching duties later this week.
“We’re just going to first worry about trying to help the Kelson family through this hard time,” Mr Fish said.
Mr Kelson led Merrivale to a flag in three grand final appearances between 1993 and 1998, with the 1996 premiership capping off an undefeated season — his sporting highlight.
It was followed by a five-year stint as Old Collegians coach, which came after the former onballer spent a year playing with South Warrnambool.
He eventually returned to the Roosters, steering their under 18s to a premiership in 2006. He coached the junior side again in 2007 before being promoted to the senior role, which he shared with Danny Finn.
South Warrnambool president Gary Walsh yesterday said the club was saddened by the news.
“Stephen was a respected coach of South Warrnambool, both the under 18s and the seniors for two years jointly with Danny Finn,” he said. “He was a mentor to a lot of players.”
Mr Walsh said Mr Kelson played a role in the Roosters’ 2011 flag as he and Mr Finn developed a host of South’s younger players while the pair were at the helm in 2008 and ’09.
“He had a great influence on a number of our premiership players,” said the president, who also highlighted his light-hearted nature away from the field. “He was a jovial joker,” he said.
Warrnambool and District Football Netball League (WDFNL) president Justin Balmer described the death of Mr Kelson — who was in his third season as senior coach since returning to the Tigers — as tragic.
“Our deepest sympathies are with the Kelson family and the Merrivale Football Netball Club,” he said.
“Jack’s been a big part of football in the local area.
“It’s a massive loss.”
Mr Balmer said the WDFNL would include a tribute to Mr Kelson in its round four program, while it is also likely that clubs will wear black armbands in his honour next Saturday.
South Warrnambool export and Melbourne AFL footballer Brent Moloney yesterday tweeted he would wear a black armband in honour of Mr Kelson in yesterday’s match against the Western Bulldogs.