Bob Neil - The Legend

Bob Neil is an enigma. Much is known about him, but few could tell you what he looks like, or how to find him. Many have tried and failed - his fans have carried banners emblazoned with his name to major sporting events in Australia and around the world, from Adelaide Oval to the MCG, from Lord's to Trinidad.

They have paged him in the hopes of drawing him out into the open, just so they can catch a glimpse of their legendary hero. "Dr Bob Neil... paging Dr Bob Neil"-it's a familiar sound heard over the loudspeakers of many a sporting venue. But no one ever answers the call; so far Bob Neil

The legend of Bob Neil first grew to prominence among members of the Adelaide Uni Football Club, known as the Blacks. Bob Neil started as a player with the Blacks in the 1970s, later becoming a coach and committee member. His good deeds were known far and wide-appearing out of nowhere to help tap a beer keg at a party (a difficult task when there's no experienced bar staff around) or filling in for a player or an umpire at short notice.

But it was during the 1986 Al (Amateur League) Grand Final that his name first achieved legend status, when a chant of "Bob Neil, Bob Neil”, was used to spur the Blacks on to victory. Soon his name began appearing all over Adelaide-in graffiti, on banners, and over the loudspeakers at Adelaide Oval. When a Bob Neil banner was spotted at an Aussie Rules match at The Oval, London, he had ceased being a cult figure and had transformed into a phenomenon. His name even appeared on the Berlin Wall just before it was demolished in 1990.

These days Bob Neil is known as the only man in Adelaide who gets away with wearing grey shorts during the footy season (so that he doesn't need to change between black for home games, or white for away). He bears the number 130 on his football jersey, which is the only three-digit number worn by a player-a device used to teach his opponents skills in mathematics as well as football.

Indeed, there's more to the man than just football. A brilliant mathematician, Bob Neil reportedly works for the Defence Department out of a secret bunker north of Adelaide, protecting Australia from invasion by solving simultaneous mathematical equations. His own equations on the meaning of life, death and beer have revolutionised both mathematical and philosophical thinking.

Bob Neil is a hero to the common man. But why is he so difficult to find?

Legends are always hard to track down because of their concern for privacy, says Fred Bloch, who's the head of the Commerce School and secretary of the Adelaide Uni Football Club.

A member of the Greys (a select group of former Blacks players who know the real Bob Neil and who help protect his true identity from being exposed), Dr Bloch is to Bob Neil what Commissioner Gordon is to Batman.

When there's only done in the most extreme occasions-like if the umpire hasn't turned up at a footy match and we need someone to fill in. Bob might have some important fourteenth line of an equation to solve, some huge problem of Australials defence, but I'll ring him and say 'We haven't got an umpire! and then he just drops everything. or if a first-year player has forgotten his jersey, that's a classic one. Then Bob will come and lend him the 130.

We get calls from people all the time to hand over his number so they can ring Bob in his bunker out there in Salisbury, but we can't do that. Bob’s a very busy man. If he was upfront and made himself available it might get unbearable, so he's gotta take a back seat and be a very secretive figure. Otherwise the demand on his time would be enormous. So for that reason I'm afraid Bob will have to remain a mystery."

Like Elvis, Dr Bloch says there've been many alleged sightings of Bob Neil over the years.

I've been to a few footy club dinners where someone's said to me: You see that guy over there? That's Bob Neil! And I just have to say, I'm sorry, but that's not Bob Neil.

I think there's maybe four or five people now around the club who actually know him and know what he looks like. You do get the Elvis thing occurring all the time. But unlike Elvis, Bob Neil is definitely not dead.

As the legend of Bob Neil grows (fan clubs have now been established in London, Montreal, Los Angeles and Singapore), Fred Bloch says he's sure those sightings will become more frequent than ever. But no one will know for certain if the person they've seen is really Bob Neil.

I don't like your chances of actually finding him, but you never know your luck. one night you might be at a party and someone's having trouble with the keg, and out of the blue comes this totally amazing guy who fixes it just like that. It might not be until later that you'll think: I wonder if that was Bob Neil? And even then you'll never really know...