Uncle Nick. The Godfather. Al Pacinos stunt double … Call Nick Politis whatever you want, but whatever you do dont question his loyalty to his beloved Roosters. Hes been a sponsor since the 1970s but this year celebrates 25 years as chairman. Hell be recognised at an intimate function on Monday night. We spoke to some of the people who know the power and passion of Uncle Nick.
DAVID GYNGELL. Former Channel Nine chief executive and Roosters director
Theres a lot of stories about Nick but the most interesting is the story of Nick. In 1993, he became Roosters chairman when we were on the bones of our arse. We were about to hit the wall financially. He put a new board together and now weve got tens of millions of dollars of assets. We were going broke and he brought in a new agenda and culture.
He said, “If youre on this board, you must love this club.” His biggest asset isnt his money, its the time he gives you. His loyalty is to the club first, people second. Nick doesnt think he owns the club. The members own the club. No directors take fees. They get nothing for free. Hes one of the richest men in Australia and works like hes the football manager.
Its easy for people to think we get players because Nick pays. Its because of the personal time he puts into people. He does it for the love of the Roosters. And he loves the Roosters. Sit next to him at a game and you will hear him say it every tackle: “Get em back!” In Nicks eyes, the opposition is always offside.
JOHN QUAYLE. Former Roosters player, administrator and ARL chief executive during the Super League War
We knew about the war before it started. There were draft documents and Nick could understand them before anyone else. His club was bleeding and he knew it would benefit immensely if it joined News Ltd's Super League. News needed 10 teams. They only had eight. We cant get Manly. Weve lost Newcastle. We better go for the Roosters. News had already told clubs they were going to get millions of dollars and the ARL could never match what they were going to get.
Nick, being the businessman that he was, knew that money would go a long way to restoring financial stability at his club. He was tempted on many occasions. The Roosters were offered $25 million at one stage.
It was very easy for others to jump but Nicks loyalty to his club and the game and both their histories meant more. He knew what it meant to be a foundation club. Those true values meant more than the $25 million.
GRAHAM RICHARDSON. Former ALP powerbroker and Politis confidant
Hes a billionaire but you wouldnt know it. Hes strong and hard and Ive known him since the Super League War. I think his main priority in his life is the Roosters. Its what makes him get up in the morning. Hes completely enveloped in them. Theyre in his DNA and hes in theirs. You cant imagine the club without him. When they lose, he doesnt hurt — he grieves. You judge people by the number of old friends they have, not new ones. This blokes got an army of old friends.
PHIL GOULD. Former Roosters coach (1994 to 1999) and then coaching director until 2005
Wed been beaten on the bell a few times in a row. I was sitting in the grandstand at Brookvale. We led 19-4 at halftime. Manly were going for 16 straight. They got back to 19-16 and the penalties were just flowing Manlys way. The ref sent Luke Ricketson to the sin-bin.
James Packer came and sat next to me and said, “Youre going to be the bridesmaid again. The refs giving it to you.” I said, “Well see about that.” I went to the sideline and threatened to bring the team off. [Trainer] Ronnie Palmer said to [captain] Sean Garlick, “He wants you off”.
Sean said, “Who me?” “No, the whole team. Hes sick of the referee.” Sean said, “Were in front Ronnie!” Ronnie came back and I said, “Yeah, dont worry about it.” But Nick was already on the phone to John Quayle saying, “Were taking our team off the field! The refs a disgrace!”
We won the game and Nick came bouncing into the dressing-room hugging me. I hadnt spoken to the journos yet. “Say whatever you want about the refs, baby!" he said. "Ill pay all the fines!”
JAMES PACKER. Former Roosters director
Nick was very good to me when I was getting started in the business world. I learnt a great deal from working with him and we shared some good times together.
Nick is a fiercely loyal and passionate individual, he invests in people and is always very generous. Its these personal characteristics that have made Nick so successful in business and life and helped his beloved Roosters to achieve so much.
RICKY STUART. Former Roosters coach from 2002 to 2006
When we won the competition in 2002, I embraced Nick after the game and I could tell how much it meant to him. It wasnt relief, just pride. He didnt drive me mad with calls when I was coach but I knew if I hadnt heard from him before 7am it meant he was in Greece. I still remember when we parted ways. We met at his regular coffee shop in Rushcutters Bay, where theres a sign on a table that says “RESERVED FOR NICK”. We didnt sit at that table that day, which probably wasnt a good sign. He said, “Its going to be best for us and for you if you move on”. It was a very easy conversation. Very calm. I said, “Mate, I totally agree with you. If I havent got your support, I dont want to be here.” We are still close. When coaching gets tough, and Ive had a lot of it, hes the first on the phone to make sure I am OK.
DAVID GALLOP. Former NRL chief executive
He never hesitated to let me know how he thought the refereeing was going, even when he was at the ground and so was I. One night, when the Roosters were relying on the result of a game between Wests Tigers and Canberra in the last round to get into the finals, he called me seven times in the first half about the refs. Although we had our blues, we had a laugh as well. His passion for the game is unmatched.
RUSSELL CROWE. Co-owner of South Sydney
I met Nick Politis for the one and only time in the airport in Sydney. He was at another carousel waiting for his bags and I saw him and stopped to say hello.
I think he said hed been in Greece. He was charming. It only took a small amount of time in his company to understand why he has been so successful in his business life and at the Eastern Suburbs Club. Hes still our foe but you know what? I would cross a road to help him if he needed it and raise a glass in his honour. I respect his achievements and enjoy our healthy competition, and thats what the game should be about.
BRAD FITTLER. Former Roosters captain and then coach (2007-2009)
He hated losing to Souths. The only time I saw him address the players before a match was in my first season, in 1996, against Souths. “I love this club,” he said. “It means so much to me — but I love beating South Sydney more. We dont get beaten by South Sydney.” We werent beaten by Souths that night and werent for the next nine years. There was no way at any stage we would let them beat us, because we knew what it meant to him.
STEVE GILLIS. Leading player manager
I was in Nicks office one day for a meeting. “Now, baby, one more thing before you go,” he said. “How long since youve had a colonoscopy?” I said, “Ive never had one.” He picked up the phone and called the secretary for [leading bowel cancer specialist] Chris Vickers at St Vincents. He didnt even have to introduce himself to the person on the other line. “Stella, please book Steve Gillis in for a colonoscopy.” Then he hung up. “Youre going in for a colonoscopy on Monday week at 9am,” he said to me. “Baby, you must do this. People die.” The sandwich at the end of the procedure was outstanding.
Nick once said to me, “Baby, the way you live your life you definitely need a colonoscopy.”
MARK FENNESSY. Current Roosters director
The only time Ive seen Nick really angry is when he couldnt find Chris Anderson to sack him because Chris was on the golf course. Wayne Bennett famously agreed to coach us in our 100th year and then it got out and there was a story in the Courier-Mail.
So Bennett backflipped. Nick hasnt spoken to him since. We were into the pre-season and Anderson was hastily appointed and it was a disaster. Remember how he didnt want second markers? We were belted 52-0 in the first match of the year against Souths. It went from bad to worse.
When wed lose, Chris would give the players four days off and play golf. The last straw was when we lost at Brookvale but Nick couldnt sack him the next day because he was playing golf! Freddy took over and had a lot of early success but, the following year, the wheels started to fall off.
Freddy moved Braith [Anasta, the captain] to fullback for a match at Penrith. It was a night game and it was pouring rain. Nick was in Greece so I had to commentate it to him over the phone from the grandstand. Kick off … Theyre bombing Braith again … Theyre bombing Braith again … Nick was on the other line saying, “Oh shit! Oh shit! Whats he doing? Whats he doing?”
I think Freddy told Nick that year that it would do them good to win the wooden spoon. “Ah, no,” Nick said. “It will not be good for us to win the wooden spoon.”
MITCHELL PEARCE. Former Roosters halfback
I remember meeting Nick and David Gyngell when I was 16 years old, just before I signed with the Roosters. I was in awe in his presence then and he took me under his wing straight away. He always backed me.
Even now that I've left, we're good as gold. I've spoken to him on the phone a few times since signing with Newcastle. What do I remember most? When we won the comp in 2013, he promised to take the boys to LA and Vegas. And he did. He came to LA with us and the boys have loved him ever since. Enough said.
SAM AYOUB. Leading player manager
Blake Ferguson was on the outer after being sacked by Canberra. I took him to meet Nick and told him Blakes a good kid with a heart of gold but someone whos had a tough upbringing. Nick made a commitment to help this kid, even if he didnt end up playing for them. He was going to at least give him a job at the club. Nobody was happier than Nick when he ended up playing for his state and country.
BLAKE FERGUSON. Roosters winger
When I first met Nick, he said: “I know theres some talent in you — but I just want you to be a better person than player.” Thats what hes tried to do. To make me a better person and Id like to think that I am. Footy is the thing I do best. It is when I am my happiest. He gave me a second chance when nobody else would. What more can you ask from someone?