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Proud, loyal Shark Stephen to earn life membership with 150th gameThursday, May 4, 2017 - 2:15 PM - by Chris Pike

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HE is a Lynn Medallist, four-time state player and now Andrew Stephen plays his 150th game for East Fremantle on Saturday with it hard to imagine a more dedicated, committed and loyal servant earning life membership.

Over the course of his 149-game career at East Fremantle that began with his league debut in 2008, Stephen has created a legacy that will have him remembered as one of the greatest servants of his proud football club.

He will earn life membership by reaching 150 games this Saturday when East Fremantle takes on West Perth at East Fremantle Oval.

It's just the latest in the list of accomplishments that he could have only dreamed of a decade ago that has seen him win the club's fairest and best award in 2013, play for Western Australia on four occasions including as vice-captain and book his name on East Fremantle's No. 12 locker.

His performances on the field have been outstanding. A tremendously strong one-on-one player who built his reputation as the best defender his size in the competition, Stephen just wouldn’t lose whatever job any coach he played under gave him.

He has always given good drive off half-back for the Sharks, was a strong intercept mark for his size and his consistency has always been his strongest suit.

All that is why he is respected immensely by teammates and opponents alike.

Now the 28-year-old gets the honour of earning life membership on Saturday.

"I have thought about it obviously but it probably doesn’t mean as much as it will once I finish my career and can look back on it. But it does give me the chance to reflect and I remember my first game and I got presented my jumper to now, and it's been a long journey," Stephen said.

"We've had a lot of ups and downs along the way, but it's all worth it for this opportunity and to have life membership at a club that obviously means the world to me and my family, is quite special.

"Not only will I be grateful for it once I finish my career for this opportunity, but I know my family will find this a very special day. It gives me the chance for me say thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way."

When he first arrived at East Fremantle just wanting to play one game was enough of a dream for Stephen.

Now to get to 150 is something he's tremendously proud of, but his focus is on getting East Fremantle's first win of 2017.

"I would never have thought I would play one game of league footy even though that was the goal. To now be about to play 150 exceeded my expectations obviously, but it's going to be a very special day and something I will remember for the rest of my life," he said.

"I'll hold it dear to me and hopefully one day tell my kids and grandkids about it. It's not something that happens much in this day and age either. During my career, only two other guys have achieved it at the club so that makes it quite special as well."

Stephen is also proud to follow on the legacy at East Fremantle from his father Peter.

He played 52 games with Old Easts from 1969-72 including winning the 1969 Lynn Medal.

Stephen was proud to follow that legacy while also knocking off some of his achievements along the way.

It took him until 2013 to kick his seventh career goal to surpass his father's six and then also overtake his 52 games before joining him as a Lynn Medal winner, which he couldn’t be more proud of sharing with him.

"When I first got to the club I heard a lot about how good dad was as a player even though I never saw him play. But I got told how good he was and what type of player he was, and I know it's hard for some guys and Ryan Lester-Smith and Peakey coming through after their dads," Stephen said.

"But being able to share different milestones has been great for us. When I beat my dad's game tally was great and the goals tally was even better. He only kicked six goals but kept reminding me he had kicked more until I passed him. Then to be the only father-son Lynn Medallists also means a great deal to me as well, and to him and my family.

"He has been through everything with me and so have my whole family. I owe a lot to mum and dad. I can't speak more highly of them and how they've helped me through. They barely miss any games and always organise their holidays around byes and things like that. They've helped me significantly throughout my whole life."

Considering his tremendous passion for East Fremantle and his loyalty to the club through his whole career and his father's history as a Lynn Medal winner too, it's a fascinating story of Stephen's early journey.

His mother supported West Perth and Stephen still remembers cheering on the 1995 premiership win for the Falcons in person with John Dimmer as coach when Darren Harris was captain.

Dimmer coached the Falcons to another flag in 1999 before Harris was at the helm with Dimmer's support in 2003. 

They are good memories for Stephen from his youth and it made it quite an honour last year when Harris was coach and Dimmer his assistant in WA's state game win over Tasmania.

Stephen then began his early career at South Fremantle so it wasn’t always a given he would be at East Fremantle despite his father's history there.

But he wouldn’t change a thing about it now.

"I actually supported West Perth when I grew up and now it turns out we are playing against them in my 150th," he said.

"Mum supported West Perth and obviously my dad played for East Fremantle but I knew in the back of my mind I always would play at East Fremantle even though I played my development squads at South Freo. When Kim Barrett came to me during colts and asked me to come down, I always knew I'd end up at East Freo. 

"Mum's parents supported West Perth and my grandparents supported West Perth, so she followed what they were doing and I joined in when I was younger. I remember when John Dimmer was their coach and was there for the 1995 premiership. 

"Then he was one of my coaches in the state game last year so that was quite special. Darren Harris was the coach in the state game too and is a premiership captain and coach from West Perth. I did support them, but obviously I'm East Freo through and through now."

East Fremantle might have been struggling for too many wins early in Stephen's career and now over the past 12 months as well, but there's been times where that ultimate success hasn’t been too far away.

While 2012 was close with East Fremantle making the grand final and losing to Claremont and 2014 was perhaps the most haunting with the Sharks kicking 7.26 in the preliminary final to lose to Subiaco who went on to claim the premiership.

But it was actually 2008 that Stephen feels could have been the best chance with East Fremantle winning eight of its last nine games to be on fire, but just missing out on finals when Peel Thunder failed to beat Swan Districts.

"We won about nine games in-a-row in the latter half of the year and it came down to the last game when we played West Perth. We won by five points but we needed another team to lose so we missed out on the finals," Stephen said.

"I felt that year that if we made the finals, we were on fire and we could have done some damage. But definitely in 2012 was the best team I've been part of. Not many teams would have been able to beat that team we had in the grand final. but Claremont had just a good team that year and were able to. Then in 2014, obviously the old if we kicked straight in the prelim who knows.

"We potentially could have been beaten East Perth in the grand final because Subi went on to win it. I always think about it and we still talk about that, which is unfortunate, but it's just one of those things in footy. You can't dwell on it too much because it's a lost opportunity and it was similar with the Foxtel Cup grand final. 

"We kicked 2.16 in that and we could have won 100 grand, but won 40 instead. I played with some amazing people and I've been fortunate to be coached by some great coaches. You look back with fond memories but you also wonder what if as well. But it's mainly good memories because when you're in a winning culture, everyone is enjoying what they're doing."

A milestone like a 150th game provides the chance to do some reflection.

The team highlights for Stephen at East Fremantle are the finals he's been part of while personally, it's hard to beat state football and winning the Lynn Medal.

"Team highlights are obviously the grand finals – both in the WAFL and Foxtel Cup. I have a lot of great memories of the Foxtel Cup, it was a great initiative. Being able to travel with the team is something we don’t often get that chance. Even playing games in Kununurra or Karratha are fantastic just to get away as a group," he said.

"On a personal level playing state footy and playing four games has been huge. Being vice-captain of your state is something I was blown away by the chance to do that. Then there's obviously the Lynn Medal as well. Those things are what I'll look back on with the greatest fondness, but from a team aspect it's all about any of the finals, prelims and grand finals that we played in."

While East Fremantle lost seven of its last nine games in 2016 and is so far winless in 2017, Stephen can see the direction the club's heading and will hope to provide as much support to the young players as he can.

"In my early stages we lost a lot of games and now that's been happening over the last 12 months with me at the end of my career. We have a clear direction now on where we're heading," he said.

"After a few tough games, we've identified that we have some good young players coming through and we will try to get some games into them. We have some good players around the 22 to 25 age mark even though we lost a few others in that 25 to 27 bracket, but we do have that coming through which is great.

"Our colts are going well so hopefully in the next few years we can start to ingrain good behaviours into them with training standards and also ruthlessness during games so that we can be successful. Hopefully what I've learnt in my career I can try to instil that into some of the young ones."

Stephen has played with some tremendous East Fremantle players over his career, but only Rob Young and Leith Teakle have reached the 150-game mark to earn life membership during his time.

There are plenty of teammates he wishes could be there with him for his milestone but he's proud to have spent some of his careers with a lot of them.

"There are a lot of guys that I wish were still there that I could run out with, guys like Luke Weller, Leith Teakle, Kasey Green, Mark McGough, Rob Young and there's plenty of others," Stephen said.

"I'm not sure if Jamie McNamara will be right to play but I've gone through my whole career with him and even Liam Anthony too, so hopefully they get to play.

"If not, all my mates are at the club still and I'm just glad to run out in the jumper again for the 150th time. Hopefully we can get a win on the board, that's the most important thing to get the club back on the up where I want it to be."