The front page of the June 26, 1992 edition of The Western Weekender said it all: “Penrith mourns”.
Less than a year after the euphoria of the club’s first premiership, the Panthers were devastated when young star Ben Alexander was tragically killed in a car accident on June 21, 1992.
20-year-old Alexander may have been playing in the shadow of his brother Greg, but he showed plenty of talent in his own right – and had clocked up 36 games for the club by the time the mid-way point of the 1992 season had rolled around.
On June 21, 1992 the Panthers defeated Easts 23-10 and a function was held at the club afterwards to present the players with their premiership blazers from the previous year.
Ben Alexander had been dropped to reserve grade a week prior to the Easts game, and was not keen to stay at the function. He and some mates decided to visit a nightclub in the area, but on the way, Ben was tragically killed at Colyton.
Greg Alexander, Mark Geyer and others rushed to the scene of the crash, as did then-CEO Don Feltis who was informed of the accident via phone.
As news of the tragedy spread across the local area, Mr Feltis held an emotional press conference.
“He had a wonderful future mapped out at Penrith,” Mr Feltis said.
The death of Ben Alexander shattered the Alexander family, his teammates, the community and the Penrith club as a whole. Looking back through the eyes of history, it would take nearly a decade for the club to truly recover from the tragic events of June
The Weekender‘s June 26 edition reported: “Penrith came to a virtual standstill yesterday when thousands flocked to St Nicholas Church to bid farewell to Ben Alexander. Nearly 700 people crammed into St Nicholas for the Requiem Mass while an estimated 4000 others spilled out of the church grounds onto High Street to listen to the mass by loud speakers”.
The Weekender reported that moving eulogies to Ben were read by Joe Zarb, Royce Simmons, Greg Alexander and Ron Mulock.
In what was an emotional week in Penrith, Mayor Tony Aquilina and Councillor Kevin Crameri led their fellow Councillors and Council staff in a minute’s silence prior to the Council meeting that took place a few days after Ben’s death. Meanwhile, flags across the Penrith district were flown at half mast.
Local radio station 2KA presented a 13 minute tribute to the 20-year-old.
The weekend after Ben’s accident, the Panthers defeated Western Suburbs.
John Cartwright is believed to have told his teammates who took the field that day: “You remember some wins more than others, but if you win today you will remember it for the rest of your life”.
Around this time every year, we remember the short career of Ben Alexander, and that fateful night in 1992 that claimed his life.
His name will never, ever be forgotten in the history of the Penrith Panthers.
Talking to the Weekender’s On The Record podcast recently, Mark Geyer spoke about sharing the grief of Ben’s passing with the community.
“It just rocked us to the core,” Geyer said.
“Everyone had their own way to deal with the grief. Mine was to just not play footy, it was the last thing on my mind when that happened.
“It’s a thing you wouldn’t want to wish on your own worst enemy, what the family went through.”
Greg Alexander, also speaking on On The Record, said he’s thrilled that Ben’s name lives on through the club’s Rookie of the Year Award.
“I present that award every year and it’s always a highlight of mine to present it and to know that Ben’s name lives on within the club,” he said.
“Getting to play with Ben was certainly special and the fact the club were able to do that… the family was so grateful.”
Troy Dodds is the Weekender’s Managing Editor and Senior Writer. He has more than 20 years experience as a journalist, working with some of Australia’s leading media organisations.