James Walle with a Tigers' junior
James Walle with a Tigers' junior contributed

Health scares inspire Tweed Coast Tigers' stalwarts

'Nobody gets paid at this club, but everyone gets rewarded with good times, mateship, and premierships' - that's the National Volunteers Week message from a pair of Tweed Coast Tigers stalwarts who survived freakish medical scares to take on coaching roles with the local AFL club this season.

The Tigers travel to Casino on Saturday to play Lismore with Anthony Pope coaching reserve grade and James Walle guiding the seniors, with regular coach Jonathon Bevan away travelling overseas.

Good friends and premiership-winning team mates, Pope (40) and Walle (36) found themselves in eerily similar life-threatening medical situations on the eve of the season.

"I was just at home with the family when my speech started to slur and the side of my face went all droopy," Pope said.

"I was so lucky my family realised they were the signs of a stroke and got me to hospital as soon as possible.

"I spent five days in the stroke ward and after seeing some of the people in there doing it really tough with serious long-term effects, I'm just so thankful to be alive and on my feet, back coaching surfing and being involved with the footy club."

While he was in hospital, Pope sent a message to Walle to tell him what happened. He was stunned to learn his mate was also facing a medical emergency.

"I got the text from Popey just after I'd been in for an MRI due to persistent headaches and pain," Walle said.

"Turns out, I'd burst a blood vessel in my brain and had a number of mini-strokes at footy training and at the beach.

"It's just so completely freakish that we both found ourselves in similar situations within hours of each other."

Pope and Walle say their stories show the importance of knowing the signs of stroke, listening to your body and getting the right help.

"It's been an absolute reality check for both of us and a reminder we're not bullet proof," Walle said.

"It certainly makes you appreciate the people around you, your family and your mates," Pope said.


Anthony Pop (middle) with his two sons
Anthony Pop (middle) with his two sons contributed

A professional surf coach, Pope was diagnosed with a Patent Foramen Ovale (PFO) otherwise known as a hole in the heart. He underwent surgery and is recovering well.

Walle was found to have a blood vessel disease and will meet with a surgeon in a few weeks and hopes to be back playing this year.

Accomplished leaders at the club and long-time committee members, Pope and Walle show the value of volunteers in community sport.

"I just love this club, it's a tribal community from the little grommies running around through to the seniors and now the women's team," Pope said.

"It was an incredibly proud moment to see my sons Kyriel and Bodhi pull on the yellow and black in senior footy the first time together last week."

"I wish I could have been out there with them, I still struggle not being able to play - but singing that winning song with them, the pure emotion that came with it is something I'll never forget."

Walle also has children involved with the club juniors and his wife Kiri is vice-captain of the new Tigers women's team.

"It was surreal and exciting to watch Kiri run out there for the first time and get stuck in," Walle said.

"Without this footy club I reckon me and Popey would have gone into a pretty dark place when we got sick.

"It's important we acknowledge in National Volunteers Week the many hands that make this club tick.

"We are all volunteers and we do it, not to get a pat on the back, but for the mateship and good times that are such a big part of Tigerland."