The first time I knew of the French city of Lyon was November 11, 1972 when Australia and Great Britain met in the final of the rugby league World Cup in Stade de Gerland
The match finished in a 10-10 draw, after 20 minutes extra time, but Britain claimed the World Cup, because they had been undefeated in the preliminary rounds, and had a better for and against record than Australia.
Australia were captained by Graeme ‘Chang’ Langlands with Queenslander, Harry Bath the coach. Great Britain’s captain was Welsh winger, Clive Sullivan, with the coach, Johnny Whiteley. Sullivan was the first black man to captain Britain in any sport, just as Arthur Beetson was the first indigenous man to captain Australia in any sport.
Australia were leading 5-2 after 30 minutes, when halfback, Dennis Ward put up a high kick, which Langlands followed as part of a rehearsed move.
In ‘Their Finest Hour’, a history of the Rugby League World Cup, author Andrew Marmont wrote: “As the ball was dropping back to earth, the lanky fullback, (Langlands), made his move, jumping forward through the air like an action movie star. He grabbed the ball in mid-air, put the ball down on the ground and somersaulted forward in one quick movement. The whole stadium erupted in a huge roar. Spectators screamed in a mixture of disbelief, amazement and excitement.”
But French referee, Georges Jameau ruled Langlands was off-side, I think largely because he did not believe what he just saw, was possible.
I watched the game live, from the lounge room of my parents’ house at Murwillumbah, and like the spectators in Lyon, I was stunned at the brilliance of Langlands.
In 2008, when I covered the Centenary Test (Australia v New Zealand) at the Sydney Cricket Ground, I saw Greg Inglis do something similar to ‘Chang’.
The first time I visited Lyon was in November, 20O9 when my wife Marie and I were on a British/European holiday.
We had caught a flight from Manchester to Lyon, and then took a shuttle bus to the city, before walking via the gardens and zoo (where, without cost, you can see giraffes going by) to our hotel in the Villeurbanne area, near the university.
We walked to Bar Wilson, where a rough looking barmaid shouted us a drink, after we had bought two. How often does that happen in Australia now?
Benolte Lamotte, a technican, recommended an Italian restaurant run by a mate, but we walked a little further to a bar, with a Marilyn Munro theme and the barmaid recommended the restaurant next door.
We thought it was a traditional French eating house, but it turned out to be Lebanese, with photographs of old Beirut on the walls. The owner/chef was quite taken with us, and prepared a banquet, as well as shouting us a liquor.
Again, how often does this sort of hospitality occur in Australia now?
The next morning I fell foul of the check out-chick, at our local supermarket, for not weighing the fruit I had bought.
Marie and I caught a tram at 11.30 a.m., and what a great public transport system it is. We walked across the Rhone and Saone Rivers, up to the Notre Dame, taking the back streets on our descent.
While Marie had a bath, I escaped for three beers at ‘Cafe Italian’, where I read national daily sporting newspaper, L’Equipe. No rugby league. The barman said the local rugby union club would not be playing at the weekend because illness had swept through the playing ranks. he knew of the local rugby league side, Villeurbanne-Lyon, which played in the French lower divisions, a far cry from their glory days.
I bought a pizza at Pinocchio, where I was assisted with my choice, and interpretation, by a group of students.
The next day, Marie and I had lunch at RiverCafe203 – lamb stew (moi) fish (Marie) – eating on the footpath, in the sunshine.
Afterwards, we caught a driverless rack railway train from Vaise to Plataeau Duchere. There were lots of rowers on the river near Pont Masaryk.
Algerian soccer supporters took over the streets as Marie and I headed to town on a tram for dinner, at Bouchon Berjes. Algeria was playing Egypt in a World Cup qualifier and the police were on high alert. Thank God Algeria wasn’t playing France. Then again, those Algerian supporters might have gone for France, or been happy either way. Yeah, right. I wonder if any of them had heard of Chang’s try!
The owner of Bouchon Berjes told us his daughter was going to Southhampton in England for English lessons.
The next day we picked up a Fiat from Hertz for the next leg of our French adventure, heading west to Roanne, like Lyon, a city which still boasts a rugby league side, albeit nowhere near as strong as back in the 1950s and ’60s.
More on our French travels in a later post.
1 Clive Sullivan and Graeme Langlands lead out the British and Australian teams in Lyon. That’s Arthur Beetson behind Langlands.
2 Marie Ricketts prepares to catch a Lyon tram
3 Our chef at our Lebanese Restaurant at Lyon
4 Lyon market
5 Lyon dining.