Distraught Fatty refutes ‘disgusting’ claim

League great Paul Vautin has emphatically shot down claims he and his fellow The Footy Show cast mocked Mario Fenech while knowing about his dementia diagnosis.

The sad decline in Fenech’s health due to the condition was laid bare on Seven’s spotlight on Sunday, and while Vautin praised the show for offering insight into Fenech’s struggles, he was left angered by an article written in the aftermath.

Vautin, who was the host of Tea Footy Show from 1994 to 2017, called out a news.com.au article with the headline ‘Footy Show mocked cult hero Mario Fenech when he knew he was sick’, saying it was “so far from the truth”.

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“I’ve never seen a more disgusting news headline,” he told 4BC’s Wide World of Sports Radio.

“It’s incredibly disappointing to see that.”

“I did an interview with him at the SFS (Sydney Football Stadium) in a coffee shop in 2016 and he announced that he had early onset dementia and we were all shocked by that,” Vautin added.

“I know for a fact that Mario was seldom, if at all, used on the show after that, so there’s no possible way that we mocked him (while knowing his condition), none at all.

“I just want to reassure people who were fans of the show back in the day. That show has left a great legacy.

“I just want to tell them that we never ever mistreated Mario Fenech once we knew that he had dementia.

“We are all still great mates…we all still think the world of each other. I just want people to know that.”

The story featured quotes from Fenech’s wife Rebecca, who claimed that her husband often returned home from the show “pissed off” about his portrayal, but Vautin claimed he’d “never heard him (Fenech) complain once”.

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“Mario was very good on the show, and he loved being on the show,” he said.

“He knew that we were taking the mickey out of him a hell of a lot, but he played the part so well.

“Once the show was finished it was back to, ‘Hey mate, how you going?’, and he’d always finish off with, ‘Love ya Fat, see you next week’, (and I’d say), ‘ Yes mate, no dramas.

“We used to take the mickey out of him a bit, and he played the role well, but you know what, he wasn’t the only one. On that show we all had the mickey taken out of us, no doubt about it .

“One of his roles was he was like the straight man, and we did take the mickey out of him, and honestly he was a lot of very funny stuff. I never heard him complain once.

“There were things that we all did that we didn’t want to do, but for the sake of entertainment for the show we just got on with it and did it and had fun.

“Mario Fenech is one of the greatest people that I’ve ever met. To tell a fella you love him is a big deal and we would often say that to each other as he left.

“Don’t worry about Falcon, he gave as good as he got on the show. He was terrific. He was a great work partner, we had a lot of fun together. That’s what it was: a lot of fun.”

Nevertheless, Vautin said he understood Fenech’s wife’s frustrations about her husband’s portrayal on the show.

“What’s happened with Mario, I can’t put into words how I feel about it, especially for his wife,” he said.

“Rebecca’s been a great wife to him and a great person as well. I understand her frustration thinking that we did take the mickey out of him a bit too much, but he played a role and he loved it and he got paid.

“I hope a miracle happens with Mario, it’s just very sad. He did cop a lot of knocks.

“Whether rugby league has had anything to do with it I don’t know, but it’s a travesty of justice that a guy like him with so much to offer in his life to his family and friends is struggling.

“It is with much love we say we are all feeling for you.”

Vautin has personal experience with dementia, with the disease claiming the life of his mother, and he recalled his final days.

“I watched my mother pass away from dementia, it’s not much fun,” he said.

“I went up and fed my mother lunch the day before she passed. She’d had dementia for 10 years so feeding her was sort of mechanical, it was spoon to the food to the mouth.

“At about the fifth spoon, she closed her mouth and she looked at me and she gave me the most beautiful biggest smile I’d seen in a long time.

“I thought, ‘Oh no, she actually recognizes me, she knows who I am’, but it only lasted 10 seconds and then the mechanical side came back.

“Just for 10 seconds she remembered who I was, and unfortunately she passed the next day.”

Fenech is far from the only player to suffer from brain-related injuries in their post-playing days, and Vautin praised the NRL for his attempts to protect players’ heads.

“I got concussed a lot of times and you just played on,” he said.

“I’m glad it’s all changed now. I will say I think they’ve gone a bit overboard with some accidental knocks getting penalized when they probably shouldn’t, but I’m all for protecting the head.

“We’re not seeing a lot of foul play now, there was a lot more foul play back when we played.”

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