If there was a single moment from Tim Membrey’s career-to-date that would best encapsulate him as a player, last week’s milestone major against West Coast might just be the perfect example.
As has been the case many times before, St Kilda was fighting an uphill battle. A third-quarter revival from the Eagles had the margin at a perilous three points with five minutes remaining in the term, threatening to put a line through a potential finals appearance in 2022.
The situation was looking bleaker by the minute until Membrey, wheeling around on his right boot, put through a crucial goal to steady the ship and lay the foundations for the Saints’ eventual 28-point win.
The key forward’s timely intervention was coincidentally the 250th major of his career, but was a goal emblematic of what he has garnered so much respect for across his eight seasons at St Kilda.
When the Saints are close to dropping to the canvas, Membrey has unfailingly been the one to step up to the plate, dig in and inspire his teammates to go another round.
It’s a theme that’s been consistent with the much-loved Saint, who has continually delivered to the point where milestone moments like Sunday’s become secondary when compared to the selfless, team-centric nature of his game.
There are moments within games which wholly define what a player is all about. Fleeting as they may be at times, the impression left behind resonate much longer – and far deeper – than the action itself. Last Sunday’s goal to will his side back into the contest was exactly that.
This weekend, Membrey will celebrate another terrific achievement as he reaches the 150-game milestone.
But just like his tide-turning goal against the Eagles, Membrey won’t be rising to the occasion in the pursuit of his own individual successes, but instead for that of everyone else around him.
Love Being Here
A steadying goal here, a late contested grab in defence there, all the little moments – in-between the big bags and aerial acrobatics – add up to paint the picture of what the man affectionately known as ‘Skunk’ is all about.
Although the heavily inked Saint isn’t necessarily the type to produce the match-winning theatrics of a Jade Gresham or Jack Higgins, he’s more often than not the one to get the ball rolling to turn the tide in St Kilda’s favour.
He’s both the catalyst and the steadier; the leading example but very rarely the leading man. Above all, he’s the one his teammates can count on to deliver.
Despite St Kilda hitting extended rough patches throughout his career, very rarely has the Saints’ statesman ended a game bowing his head because he didn’t dig in enough.
Teammate, former housemate and best mate Jimmy Webster can attest to that without so much as a second thought.
“When I think about Skunk, the word that comes to mind is ‘reliable’,” Webster told saints.com.au ahead of Membrey’s 150th game.
“I think that’s where Skunk has grown most as a player and a leader at the footy club. When things ain’t going great for us, he’s someone we can really look up to and someone that stands up.
“It sums him up as a bloke, really. He cares for his teammates, cares for the club and it doesn’t really matter what role he’s playing, he’s always there to roll up the sleeves and help us out. It’s something we all love about him.”
Membrey’s repeated exhibitions of self-sacrifice eventuated in his inclusion to the club’s leadership group in 2019. The 28-year-old has served two of those years as co-vice-captain alongside Dougal Howard, even leading the Saints into battle twice this year in the injured Jack Steele’s absence.
“Everybody at this football club respects you so much because of the way you go about your footy and your life as well.”— St Kilda FC (@stkildafc) July 29, 2022
Ratts congratulates Skunk ahead of his 150th. pic.twitter.com/nO8zWxKgUq
Alongside his three Leading Goalkicker honours, Membrey was additionally bestowed the Robert Harvey Best Clubman Award in 2020; a season where connection and camaraderie between teammates was paramount.
That ideal of connection and sense of place has seeped into St Kilda through multiple ways in the ensuing seasons, with the Saints leader responsible for the installation of one of club’s wall decals – reading Love Being Here – at RSEA Park.
Adorning the corridor leading towards the men’s changerooms, the artwork intends to serve as a reminder for every player to embrace everyone and everything the club is building towards as they arrive each morning.
“It (the leadership) has definitely grown on him. The first couple of years, you probably wouldn’t say he was going to be a leader at the club,” Webster added.
“He’s always had that part in him – you see it with his family – but taking up the role as a leader has just brought it out even more.
“When things are tough, you can always look to Skunk, not only on-field but off-field. He’s always there, just because he cares so much about the people around him.”
'Everything you see on-field, that’s who he is'
If you know Tim Membrey the Saint, then you know Tim Membrey the loving father, husband and family man.
While the on-field and off-field personas can vary dramatically between individuals across the competition, there’s no such split for the family-oriented gentleman whose heart beats for all those around him.
Membrey’s wife, Emily, has known the Gippslander far longer than any of his teammates and has witnessed that first-hand for the better part of 15 years.
While Skunk isn’t particularly regarded for his smooth moves on-field in the same vein as Hunter Clark or Bradley Hill, he apparently pulled out all the right stops when meeting his future wife for the first time in 2007.
Emily, also from Gippsland, and Tim first locked eyes when they were 13 years old at an underage disco in Traralgon. They were each other’s first boyfriend/girlfriend; a relationship which – save for a short break-up when the latter was drafted to Sydney – has since endured through all of life’s ups and downs.
The pair are closing in on two years of marriage, now with their one-year-old daughter, Wren, in tow.
“He is everything you see on-field, that’s who he is,” Emily Membrey told saints.com.au.
“How he is with the players, they’re almost like family to him. He puts so much pressure on himself to make sure he’s there for those moments, especially in hard times or times when people drop their head and stop believing.
“That’s what he’s like with our family. We all look to him if something’s going on, and he’s happy to stand up and get us all back on track with whatever we need.”
There’s no clearer example of him doing just that for his family than when tragedy hit the tight-knit Gippsland families in late 2018.
The sudden and unexpected passing of Membrey’s brother-in-law, Jordy, left an indescribable hole in the many families involved, but also left his sister, Sherryn, who was six months pregnant, without her partner and father-to-be.
Foxx was born a few months later, with first-time uncle Membrey instantly filling the fatherly void left by his late brother-in-law.
It’s an unbreakable bond between uncle and nephew; one sadly born out of unimaginable hardship but one that will never deteriorate with the Membrey unwavering in his desire to play “a huge part” in Foxx's life.
“Without a question or a doubt he was – and wanted – to be there for Sherryn and Foxx,” Emily said.
“Now Foxx is here, Tim is definitely the proudest uncle you could imagine. Being that father figure for Foxx and being that support for Shez (Sherryn) means so much to him. They’re inseparable.
“Having Wren now, he’ll have the two kids around him and we’ll both love to see them happy and together.”
Foxx and Wren were born just over 18 months apart, with the latter turning one late last month.
“We’ve been lucky because we say Tim got some practice changing nappies with Foxxy before Wren came along, but he’s not worried to have to do any of that,” Emily laughed.
“It’s not like a first-time dad where it’s all a bit freaky and full-on, it’s all just ‘no worries, fine by me’. He’s the best dad, hands-on, and Wren, she’s the busiest kid you’ll ever meet.
Membrey’s family-first mantra caught headlines unexpectedly last season after he decided to temporarily depart St Kilda’s hub to be with Emily for the birth of Wren.
Seb Ross also found himself in identical circumstances after he returned to Melbourne to be with his wife, Marnie, as they welcomed twin boys Vinnie and Henley into the world.
“It just shows after footy he can be proud of all of his achievements and everything he’s done, but he’ll know he didn’t miss any of the family things that will last forever or the memories he can’t get back,” Emily said.
“He’s done both at the same time and has always made sure family is first. He doesn’t want to regret not being there or being hands-on when he was busy being somewhere else.
“I think with footy it’s so much pressure and so consuming, but when he comes home he’s really good at switching off and being dad at home first and foremost.”
Saturday will be no different
In true fashion, Membrey’s upcoming milestone has taken a backseat in his mind as St Kilda prepares for its must-win match with Hawthorn.
Saturday afternoon again shapes as a defining encounter in the course of the Saints’ prospective finals tilt.
What almost appeared a certainty with an 8-3 record before the bye is now dependant on the red, white and black again elevating to squeeze past a throng of other teams striving for the remaining places in the top-eight.
Wife Emily, daughter Wren, sister Sherryn and nephew Foxx, along with Tim’s parents, will all be in attendance at Marvel Stadium, with Webster to present the No. 28 with his guernsey before the game.
“He’s very selfless, not one to boast about his accomplishments… he’s about everyone doing well and the team doing well,” Emily Membrey said.
“His 150th game, of course he’s proud, but this week he’s all about ‘hopefully we can get a win for the boys and it’s exciting that Hanners is coming back’.
What’s in store for St Kilda in its final month of the season remains uncertain.
But there’s no doubt that Skunk will be the one to step up to the plate when those around him need him most.