By Luke Voogt
Geelong Football Club has paid tribute to past president, businessman and philanthropist Frank Costa, who died at age 83 on Sunday morning.
From humble beginnings selling newspapers at age 11 and taking over his parents’ green grocer as a young man, Mr Costa grew the business into a national produce empire while facing down corruption and threats from Melbourne’s Calabrian mafia.
But the man born Francis Aloysius Costa was perhaps best known for his role in saving Geelong Cats from financial ruin.
His business success led to an invitation in 1996 to join the board of the club, which was struggling through major financial difficulties.
In 1998 the board unanimously elected Mr Costa as president, and he focused on head-hunting Brian Cook, who he later described as “Geelong’s best recruit since 1859”.
In a statement on Sunday Mr Cook remembered Mr Costa and offered his condolences to wife Shirley and their children.
“Frank was a legend as a person, and a legend of the club,” the Cats chief executive officer said.
“He forged so many strong and lasting relationships through his warmth and authenticity.
“He will be missed by all that have been fortunate enough to know and love him. Our thoughts are with Shirley, and the entire Costa family.”
Mr Costa recently became the club’s 26th legend and was the first non-player to receive the honour.
“Without Frank, there must be a genuine question as to whether or not the Geelong Football Club would exist today,” Mr Cook said.
“It is highly doubtful it would exist in its current form without having had Frank at the helm.
“Frank took on one of the toughest roles in football as our president at a time when the very future of the Geelong Football Club was in the balance.
“The club was on a financial precipice, playing in a crumbling venue and had not tasted premiership success in 36 years.”
But when he departed in 2010, the Cats had broken the premiership drought, winning two flags in three years, and secured funding for major upgrades at Kardinia Park.
“When the history of the club is written, it will be impossible to do so without having Frank at the forefront of the past 20-25 years,” Mr Cook said.
“He took a divided club and willed it into the club we know today.”
After retiring as president, Mr Costa became the patron of the club and up to two dozen other organisations and charities.
He donated considerable amounts to St John of God Hospital, St Mary’s Church, Geelong Community Foundation, Barwon Health Foundation and other causes.
Last year the Costa Family donated $2.5 million to Barwon Health Foundation to help establish the Adrian Costa Clinical Trials Centre in honour of Mr Costa’s late older brother.
Mr Costa was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia in 2015.
Media personalities, the AFL, politicians and Geelong community leaders joined the Cats in paying their respects to Mr Costa this week.