The sports stars ESPN's team of journalists idolised and admired

Every single one of us grew up with a sporting idol (or two), and ESPN Australia's team of journalists and editors are no different.

Here, we take a trip down memory lane and discuss the stars we admired, idolised and adored when we were young. We may even still have a soft spot for them now...


Stuart Randall (Senior Editor)
Idol: Paul Gascoigne

Mercurial, majestic, magnificent. Gazza was my hero growing up. At 10 years of age I saw my team Tottenham sign this raw, gifted football star. Chubby, perma-smile, wise cracking Geordie: Paul Gascoigne. We fell for him instantly. A proper Tottenham player. The heir to Glenn Hoddle's throne. The team was ho-hum but Gazza was great.

Around four months after he signed, my world turned upside down. My father died suddenly in November, 1988. A few weeks later it's a sombre Christmas, living with my grandparents. Presents came and everyone tried to make it as happy as possible, but it was too hard. However, there was a present for me that looked familiar. It was a football. Not just any football, but a Tottenham ball signed by the squad that season. My eye caught one thing in particular, a message.

A smile came to my face, just as it did today when I looked at the ball I still have over 30 years on. A simple gesture for a kid he'd never heard of, and never would again, but one that meant everything.

Gazza was a genius on the pitch. However, like many, he was deeply flawed, battling a multitude of his own demons, from addiction, to mental health. Pictures of him post football have shown a man struggling with life, looking years older and the tales grow sadder.

But in my mind, the images are different. It's dribbling past countless defenders, the smile in celebration, the goal against Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal (I was there), the brilliance and tears of Italia '90, and the final flourish in Euro '96. But most of all, the image of that ball and that signature.


Sam Bruce (Associate Editor)
Idol: David Campese

I had a couple of sporting idols when I was a kid, one for each of the rugby codes. In rugby league, it was St George back-row forward Brad Mackay while in rugby it was the great David Campese, although George Gregan's try-saving tackle in 1994 also stands out as a memory, too. But for the purpose of this exercise, let's go with Campo.

The Wallabies winger was a star of rugby's amateur era, peaking at the 1991 World Cup. I remember discovering a video of the tournament a few years later buried deep within the TV cabinet, watching it one day while I was home sick from school. The semifinal win over the All Blacks, Campo bamboozling defenders and then throwing an over-the-shoulder pass to Tim Horan: those were the days.

And I loved the goose step. I remember once even trying to do it on the soccer field, though I'm not sure it did any good. Campo could certainly make an error, and he didn't love tackling, but at his best he was in the same class, skill-wise, as Carlos Spencer ... and he was never afraid to chance his arm.


Jake Michaels (Associate Editor)
Idol: Lewis Hamilton

In March, 2007, when I was 15, a close friend of mine asked if I wanted to join him at the Australian Grand Prix. "Car racing? No thank you," I sarcastically replied.

To this day I'm still unsure how he managed to convince me to head along to Albert Park with him, but boy am I glad I did. From the moment I caught my first glimpse of live Formula One, I was obsessed. The speed, noise and sheer magnitude of the event had me in a trance and I remember being drawn to one driver who was making his debut: 22-year-old Lewis Hamilton.

From then on, every second Sunday night I would tune in and watch Hamilton race. Decked out in McLaren gear, I would cheer him on from my sofa. Every March, in the week leading up to the race in Melbourne, I would spend hours camped out at Tullamarine Airport, hoping to catch a glimpse of him after he'd stepped off the plane.

There wasn't a dollar I earned from my two jobs which wasn't deposited straight into an F1 travel account. I funded trips all over the world just so I could watch Hamilton race. From Singapore to Japan, Great Britain to the United States.

Believe it or not, Hamilton was the reason I pursued a career in sports journalism. At the time, I wanted a job which would give me the opportunity to maybe one day meet him.

Now, 13 years on, Hamilton is a six-time Formula One world champion and one of the all-time greats of the sport. Covering Formula One for ESPN has given me the opportunity to be in the same paddock as him on a heap of occasions. I'd be lying if I said I have ever gotten used to it.


Mike Wise (Associate Editor)
Idol: Brett Kirk

Brett Kirk would be the first to admit he was not the most talented player to ever play AFL, but talent was always going to be secondary with a footballer who played with so much heart.

One of the Swans' most decorated players of all-time, it was Kirk that formed part of a core group of players which instilled the "Bloods culture" that drove Sydney to their drought-breaking premiership win in 2005.

It says a lot that perhaps Kirk's most memorable highlight is him getting absolutely smashed by Port Adelaide's Byron Pickett ... and just getting up again. "Tough but fair" seemed to be Kirk's mantra, and that was more than good enough for me growing up.


Matt Walsh (Assistant Editor)
Idol: Brett Lee

Growing up, my family moved overseas for a few years so my parents could chase teaching opportunities in south-east Asia. When we returned, I was due to start Grade 5 at primary school, and thus, take part in school sports.

Having played cricket in the backyard in Brunei, it was to be my summer sport of choice, but as our school already had a full suite of players by the time I started, I had to undergo a trial to see if the coach would add me. Channeling my inner Brett Lee, from the hair (at the time), to the action and the pace (at least I thought), I sent down a thunderous few deliveries in the nets and was rewarded with a spot on the team.

I always admired Lee's ferocity, pace, attitude and the chainsaw celebration, and it was his action I tried to copy in my junior days as a half decent pace bowler - all the way through to playing First XI at Marcellin. His singing career, however, leaves a bit to be desired...


Darren Arthur (Production Editor)
Idol: Steve Waugh

When I was growing up watching cricket, the ease with which batsmen like Greg Chappell, Viv Richards and David Gower played was other worldly. It was a beautiful spectacle, but bared absolutely no resemblance to my own battles with bat against ball at junior level.

Along came Stephen Rodger Waugh who was 20 when he made his Test debut against India in 1985. He was from Sydney and played for New South Wales, he was right-handed, his struggles were real and his mental grit was palpable. His road to success was not straight forward. It wasn't until his 27th Test that he scored his maiden century, before being dropped the following year for his twin brother Mark, who batted with the style and grace of Chappell and Gower.

Steve fought his way back into the team, adapting his batting to take advantage of his strengths, resisting shots that had previously been his downfall. He was part of the 1995 touring team which won the Frank Worrell Trophy for the first time in over 20 years, and despite being battered by the quick bowlers he stood defiantly against their intimidating tactics.

He went on to be Australian captain, leading the national team through one of its most successful periods of Test and ODI cricket. I witnessed first-hand some great Steve Waugh moments. I was there at a rain-marred ODI game at the SCG to see him cover drive a six off the last ball of Australia's innings off the bowling of Curtley Ambrose. I was also there at the SCG when he hit the last ball of the day to bring up a century against England in his final Test.

Steve Waugh was ultimately relatable. At times he made cricket look like the incredible challenge we all know it can be. He played within his personal restrictions and fought for every run and every wicket. His undeniable desire to compete, to give his all to the cause, still inspires me to this day.


Niall Seewang (Associate Editor)
Idol: Shane Warne

Landing a perfect leg spin delivery is maddeningly difficult. Landing them -- and variations of your stock ball -- repeatedly, while putting a huge amount of revs on the ball, against the best batsmen in the world, is just about impossible. Unless you're Shane Warne.

Back in the era of the West Indies-inspired fast bowling dominance, Warne almost single-handedly rejuvenated a dying art and he quickly became my sporting idol as a young legspinner more likely to get the ball to bounce twice instead of threatening to dismiss a batsman.

And it wasn't just Warne's ability to master the hardest skill in cricket that I looked up to. I also loved his guile and the way he set batsmen up before deceiving them in the most breathtaking of manners. He was always one step ahead.

I remember shortly after Warne's retirement, getting home a bit tired and emotional after a night out, watching some of his finest moments on YouTube and crying at the realisation his career was over. Still, I'll never get tired of watching replays of Warne at his best, because a perfect leg break is a thing of mysterious beauty, and Warne delivered more of them than anyone else.


Laurie Horesh (Producer Editor)
Idol: Steve Austin

As a 9-year-old in 1998, there was simply nothing that got the adrenalin pumping like when that glass shattered. The anti-hero that won the Monday Night Wars for the then-WWF, if you didn't smash two cans of Coke together and then guzzle/pour them down your torso at birthday parties in the late-90s, I don't know what shin-digs you got invited too.

'The Rattlesnake' was a cold-blooded assassin in the ring who flipped off everyone and had 18,000-strong crowds (and everyone at home) absolutely losing their minds when he was on the mic. For an impressionable young boy, what more could you want?

During that supernova run against the likes of The (Corporate) Rock, Triple H, Undertaker, Kane, every edition of Mic Foley and of course Vince McMahon, Austin could strike at anytime, taking no prisoners and giving Jim Ross heart palpitations.

The show opened, thousands of signs panned across the screen, his music hit, and the goosebumps raced up your arm.

Alas, when he made the "deal with the devil" at Wrestlemania XVII in Texas, so the glory of the Attitude Era (and the Austin era really) came to a close, there were still memories to be made in the years that followed. But from late 1997-2001, Stone Cold was the bottom line.


Brittany Mitchell (Assistant Editor)
Idol: Matt Giteau

If I had to pick one, it would be former Wallaby Matt Giteau. I was still pretty young, about nine-years-old, when he first sprung onto the international rugby scene and quickly became one of my favourites to watch.

Although he played for the wrong Super Rugby team, I forgave him. His performances for the Wallabies more than made up for it.

He was the full package player; he played fly-half, inside centre and half-back. He could convert from the sideline, had an amazing pass and could burn the defence. I had his number on the back of all my jerseys, I made sure to get up at 3am to watch all his Wallabies games and kept up with his career in Toulon.

I even embarrassingly had a bit of a fan girl moment when I met him at the last year's Rugby World Cup.

His return for the Wallabies for the 2015 World Cup was something I'd hoped to see for years and his performances more than made up for his absence.

The moment he was knocked out in the early minutes of the World Cup final remain crystal clear in my mind, despite the tears that came to my eyes knowing his game and our chances of winning the cup were over.