Former SANFL and VFL elite footballer Neil Sachse, who tirelessly campaigned to improve the treatment of spinal cord injuries after being left quadriplegic by an infamous on-field incident, has died at the age of 69.
Sachse became a household name in 1975 when, in only his second game for Footscray and at the age of 24, a heavy crash during a game against Fitzroy left him unable to walk. His fate highlighted the risks of on-field injury and led to changes in the way they were treated.
"The devastating injury rocked the football world and led to greater awareness and protocols around spinal and head injuries," the SANFL said.
The SANFL confirmed Sachse passed away on Tuesday after a short illness, and expressed its deepest sympathy to his family, including his wife, sons and grandchildren.
"Neil was a wonderful player who had his football career tragically cut short," SANFL chief executive Jake Parkinson said.
"However, he remained a pioneer, committed and tenacious in his pursuit for research and understanding of spinal injuries through his foundation for which our game is the benefactor. He will be deeply missed."
Neil Sachse holds his Footscray jumper. (Life Again) Sachse was a premiership player for North Adelaide in the 1970s and was part of the side that defeated Carlton to be crowned Champions of Australia in 1972.
"The [North Adelaide Football Club] along with the entire football community salutes a truly wonderful person who will be dearly missed," the club said in a statement.
Sachse was also a decorated player at the state level, attracting the attention of Footscray, who recruited him.
After his life permanently changed, Sachse dedicated his time to raising money for research into spinal injuries, establishing what would later become the Neil Sachse Foundation in 1994.
Tributes are flowing for Sachse, with South Australia's Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) saying his "zest for life and infectious positivity" would be "dearly missed".
"Neil was a larger-than-life personality who many of us knew and loved long before he joined the SAHMRI community," institute director Professor Steve Wesselingh said.
"Since the Neil Sachse Centre for Spinal Cord Research joined SAHMRI at the start of 2017, we've all seen and marvelled at his work ethic and determination to have a positive impact for society generally, but in particular those who are living with spinal cord injury." Youtube 7.30 Report story on Neil Sachse from 2009Despite the challenges of his life, Sachse was defiant, insisting in 2016 that his was "not a hard-luck story". "Having a positive attitude was part of my solution," he said.
"By drowning in my sorrows, others around me would drown.
"By being happy within myself I knew that other people would follow."