It could have been an absolute disaster, but it had a happy ending.
For the first and only time in my life, I sold a ticket to a scalper, outside a football ground.
Not just any football ground, but London’s Wembley Stadium.
It was a October 16, 1993 and Great Britain were hosting New Zealand in the First Test of a three match series.
The Test marked the debut of Wigan’s Jason Robinson on the wing for Britain (although his junior club was Hunslet) and he would go on to become a dual rugby code superstar.
It was a privilege to be there for his first match, and he got off to a flying start with two tries in Britain’s 17-0 win, playing outside Gary Connolly. The other try scorer was Welshman, John Devereux. Britain were coached by Mal Reilly and the Kiwis by Howie Tamati. The referee was Australian, Greg McCallum.
Now, why did I feel the need to sell a ticket outside the ground?
The then England Rugby League CEO, David Howes had given me two tickets, one for me, the other for my good mate from Dover in Kent, Paul Dobson, a former rugby union prop.
At the last minute, Paul reneged.
My trip to Britain had a three-fold purpose.
I was there to prep for my 1994 Kangaroos’ supporters’ tour, as well as to provide league yarns for my employer, The Courier-Mail. They did not provide any expenses, instead paid me for articles they published.
The third reason, was to walk the recently opened Grand Union Canal path, from London to Birmingham, and to provide a travel article, for ‘The Courier’.
Anyway, as I walked up Wembley Way, with a spare ticket, I thought, ‘What the hell. I’ll get a few quid for a pint afterwards’. Five pounds was all I got. The match attracted a crowd of 36,131, in a stadium which held 100,000, so I was probably lucky to get five quid.
To my delight, at first, my seat was one of the best in the house, in front of the Royal Box, on the halfway line. Here I was surrounded by ladies in their finery, and men in coats and ties.
I settled in to watch the action, on a lovely, sunny autumn afternoon.
Then it suddenly hit me. There was an empty seat beside me. What if the scalper unloaded the ticket to some undesirable?
Ten minutes of the match had elapsed and still the seat next to me was empty. Happy days. Our scalper had not been able to unload the ticket.
Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bloke, in his early 30s, I suppose, staggering down the stairs with a bottle of beer in his hands.
No, surely not. Yes. Unfortunately so. He had bought my ticket. He was a Kiwi, loud, confident, with a thick accent and prone to using four letter words.
“You’re from Australia, bro. You’d have to go for us, not the Poms,” he said to me. I didn’t care who won, but to appease him I said: ‘Sure mate.’
The next 30 minutes were the longest of my life, as he swore like a trooper, told me how the All Blacks would demolish the Poms and generally showed his ignorance of all things rugby league.
At halftime I was saved by top photographer, Andrew Varley, who wasn’t working this particular day, choosing instead to watch the Test from the stands with his then wife, Julie. They were about 10 rows in front of me, with empty seats either side. So I joined them for the second half, relieved to be out of earshot of my Kiwi mate.
But then I had a terrible thought. If that Kiwi did something horrendous, and/or was tossed out of the stadium, David Howes might never again do me a favor, given I had abused his generosity by making a lazy five quid.
I needn’t have worried. As the full-time hooter sounded, I looked back up towards my allocated seat, and there was my Kiwi mate, chatting away to ladies, young and old, and they were hanging off his every word.
Maybe it’s true what they say. The Kiwi accent IS the sexiest in the world, even if delivered with a drunken slur.
Photo 1: Jason Robinson (left) and Gary Connolly
Photo 2: John Devereux