Harley Ullrich turned up one night at the North Sydney Police Citizens Youth Club back in 1989.
Somehow, we had managed to convince the manager of the venue that table soccer would be a good mix for his club.
In amongst the various martial arts, the weightlifting, ballet and gymnastics, the Falconians Table Soccer Club was an odd inclusion.
But the bonus was that we had a big sign on the front of the building: Subbuteo table soccer – Monday nights.
And so, a 14-year-old Harley wandered in one night, curious about the game, curious to learn.
Another North Sydney Boys High student, like so many of the originals on the north side.
He became a regular at the Falconians and then when we moved to Stanmore and created the Concoria Club.
Always enthusiastic, despite a few drubbings (“I’ll never forget Gary beating me 17-0”) he was a club regular through to the mid 90s.
When things died down in the late 90s, we lost touch.
A couple of years ago, searching through facebook, I came upon Harley again.
August 20, 2015: Hey Harley, Are you the former Subbuteo player?
A month later, he got back: “Hey i didn’t see your message. Yes I am. How are you Steve? Been a long time since I played Subbuteo. Are you or anyone still ‘flicking’ around?”
And then he was back into it, playing in tournaments, and getting Giuseppe to paint up a couple of teams for him. He played in the AGP16, getting quite into the game, coming to Northern Falcons nights.
By this stage I already knew that he had beaten a tumour that had caused issues with his eyesight. His doctors had given him the all-clear, and he had already booked his tickets to travel with us to the Asian Cup in Singapore, June 2016, when he sent me a note.
“Hey Steve. I’m arriving 7pm Thursday 9th and leaving midnight Sunday 12th, hopefully. I’m having a scan tomorrow which will hopefully clear me to go. Something came up in my scan on Tuesday which my doctors are concerned about. Possibly a new tumour. If it’s confirmed then the trip is off and I start radiotherapy next week. If it’s ok then I’m good to go. Will let you know tomorrow.”
We messaged pretty constantly. We talked about football, the Socceroos and Subbuteo, his health and his treatment.
I knew things were getting tough for him.
He kept playing, taking part in the AGFA, the Spring League and coming to club nights. He always played things low key when people asked him.
“Pretty positive”, “past the worst of it” and “getting there” were his catchphrases.
Towards the end of 2016, despite his confidence, things got worse.
The cancer was affecting him more.
Harley, back row. Last tournament he played. AGP17
He had registered for the AGP17, then contacted me a week before the event to ask about times.
I told him that no one would have thought any less of him if he pulled out.
But he would have none of it.
“If I don’t turn up, then someone gets one less match, and I’m not disappointing anyone.”
Plus he wanted to come on the Friday night dinner draw.
He messaged me: “I’ll be there Saturday. Not sure how I’ll go but I’ll play. I’m more worried about the Friday night now. Pasta is probably the hardest thing for me to eat and I’m guessing that will be the main type of food as Fab is doing the catering. It’s crap because I love pasta! I’ll still be there. I’ll manage somehow.”
And manage he did.
He lost to Benny Ng 3-0, Rik Bland 2-0, then had a 3-3 draw with Tony Credentino.
He then told me he wasn’t feeling great, said farewell and quietly left.
His brother, Simon, told me they saw him on his way home, proudly sporting his Northern Falcons shirt. “We were all thinking, what a crazy shirt. But he was smiling, because he’d had a great day out.”
“It was the last time Harley went out unassisted,” said Simon.
We talked more on Messenger. Through his sister Zoe, I learned of the expense of his treatment regime.
So the table football community kicked in what we could.
And it seems it was not just the Aussies who helped, with donations from around the globe.
The treatment helped, though he was up and down.
Through February and March, the treatment helped, mainly with his attitude. We met up at his place.
He monitored the Subbuteo events from his bed. Wanted to play in Hermann’s Bratwurst Cup, and had vague plans of going to the Asian Cup in Tokyo. “I saw the scores and photos from last Friday and was quite jealous. I would love to have gotten involved. Same with the Japan trip. I’m getting better but that’s going to come way too soon. Next year maybe. As I said, I’m getting better it’s just not happening very fast. I’m in a good place mentally though. I’m 100% sure I’ll beat this. Thanks Steve.”
From talking with his sister, I knew it wasn’t going to be such an easy battle.
In April and May, we talked about the AGFA, Japan and his treatment.
He wished us luck in Japan. “Next time.”
On Sunday morning, 11 June, as I was preparing in the hotel to go to the venue for Day 2 of the Asian Cup, the text arrived, sent by Zoe, that Harley had passed away.
We lost a great friend and a passionate teammate.