VAN BERLO PROUD OF HONOUR TO BECOME WEST PERTH LIFE MEMBER

Thursday, April 27, 2017 - 5:48 PM by Chris Pike

WEST Perth captain Jay van Berlo achieves a dream this Saturday at HBF Arena by playing his 150th game with the Falcons to earn life membership but a third straight WAFL victory is his focus.

From the moment he made his league debut for West Perth in 2007, van Berlo has been one of the WAFL's hardest working and most consistent on-ballers with him winning the club's fairest and best awards in 2008 and 2016 along with being runner-up in 2014 and 2015.

His form and commitment to West Perth has never dropped off now over a 149-game career that includes the two Breckler Medals, the 2013 premiership, representing Western Australia on three occasions being in his fourth season as captain.

He also played 32 AFL games with Fremantle either side of his West Perth career.

Now he reaches another significant milestone this Saturday at HBF Arena against Perth when the 28-year-old earns life membership at the Falcons by celebrating his 150th appearance.

Van Berlo's preparation hasn’t quite been perfect with him in Singapore for a work conference until Friday night, so any build up to the milestone will be lost upon him.

But he doesn’t want much to be made of it before the game either with the Falcons to focus firmly on trying to win a third straight match by knocking off the Demons. 

Then afterwards it would be time to enjoy what is a significant milestone for a man who will be remembered as one of West Perth's most decorated and consistent performers in the modern era.

"I guess there will be a few more family and friends there than normal just because of the occasion, and at the end of the day it's a celebration for them as well because they have been there for my journey along the way," van Berlo said.

"I've been lucky enough to have a great support network around me and it will be a good day for them to enjoy. In terms of the footy boys, I'm sure I'll cop a bit of stick about suggesting I'm nervous and what not going into my 150th, but I doubt it's going to feel too different than a normal game. 

"I doubt Bill will make much of it too and the main thing he wants is for us to win in the milestone so we can celebrate a great occasion afterwards, but not to make too much of it beforehand. The main focus for me and the boys will be to get the win on the board and then we can celebrate afterwards."

Van Berlo wasn’t quite sure how the week would pan out considering he has been away in Singapore, but he won't let that stop him being ready to go come Saturday.

He would be happy to celebrate a milestone anywhere, but he does admit to being a little more special being at HBF Arena and being in front of the passionate and loyal home supporters.

"I wasn’t sure how this conference would impact my ability to get to the 150 this week but I do find it important for me to have the milestone at home," he said.

"I love playing at the Arena and having the home crowd there just makes it extra special because you don’t always get the full contingent at the away games. 

"To do it in front of them will be great because they have supported myself throughout my career and it will be great to be out there in front of them. Hopefully they can give us that extra drive to get over the line because Perth are a decent up and coming side now. It will need our full effort to get it done."

Van Berlo certainly isn’t playing down the significance of reaching the 150-game mark to earn the life membership either.

To be a life member of the West Perth Football Club is something that means the world to him and considering the greats he has played alongside to achieve it as well, and the greats who have done it before him only highlights what an achievement it is.

"It's a massive honour. I guess the number isn’t so much the biggest thing for me, but the life membership is huge and that's something that you sort of dream about when you first come up to the club as a young kid," van Berlo said.

"The first goal was obviously to get a gig in the development squads, then the colts and work through the reserves, and eventually try and play a league game. I managed to do that and then you see some of the names on the lockers and you want to achieve that by reaching 100 games. 

"After that it was a matter of if I can get to life membership and it's great that I've made it. It's such a great family club and it has given me so much over the years that to reach life membership is a huge honour. 

"Knowing some of the players in that life members group and you see some of the legends of the footy club, it puts it all into perspective and makes me feel very humbled to be part of that group."

Van Berlo has played alongside Ray Bartholomew, Chris Keunen, Jason Salecic, Anthony Tsalikis, Matt Guadagnin, Dan Hunt, Dustin Burns, Andrew Strijk and Josh Pearce who have all reached life membership status across the past decade.

He has been honoured to play with each and every one of them, and especially his co-captain of 2014 and 2015, and premiership teammate of 2013, Luke Tedesco, who was able to achieve the life membership last year before retiring at the end of the season.

It was hearing what the achievement meant to Tedesco that made it hit home to van Berlo what it would mean to him as well.

"The most recent one that's achieved it is Luke Tedesco when he did it late last year and when he spoke about what it meant to him, that's when it hit home to me how big it was," he said.

"He puts it up there as his biggest achievement even up there with the premiership so that really made me want it even more this year. I knew I needed six games to get there but the closer you get the more you make sure you want to get there so you don’t miss out.

"Luke was the most recent one but I've been lucky enough to be there for a number of my teammates to reach 150 games and I put all of them on a pedestal as greats of the club. To join them as a life member now amongst the other legends of the past is a huge honour."

As for West Perth's season to date, things threatened to spiral out of control with the 103-point loss to South Fremantle at Fremantle Community Bank Oval back in Round 4.

What was going to determine the Falcons fortunes for 2017 was how they responded and it couldn’t have been more impressive with the rebound wins over Peel Thunder and Swan Districts.

Van Berlo has been impressed with the response from the whole group and now hopes it continues on Saturday against Perth whether it's for his milestone or not.

"That South Fremantle loss certainly was disappointing. I was speaking to Andrew Strijk and we couldn’t think of too many games when we've lost by as big a margin," van Berlo said.

"You hope those days never pop up and that your group is mature enough to stop those games from happening, but unfortunately it did happen. Once it did, we couldn’t change it other than do our best to rectify it. 

"The way the boys responded down at Peel who are always a really tough opponent was fantastic. We couldn’t have done much more in that game to right the wrong of the week before and then the big challenge was to not make it a one off and back it up against the undefeated Swan Districts. 

"The boys did that really well again and it's a bit of a bitter sweet scenario where we wish that South Fremantle game never happened, but they are an unbelievable side. 

"But the way the boys have responded and picked themselves up when we were copping it from all ends that week was great. Hopefully we can continue that now because it's amazing what a week or two of winning does for the confidence of everyone in the group."