DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 40 2019
Six decades of soccer (football) is remembered in the Tweed Valley, with the likes of Jim Devine Senior and Brian Breckenridge honoured. Soccer was the poor relation to rugby league and hockey, when I lived at Murwillumbah, from 1960 to 1975, although not so much in terms of playing numbers. Soccer certainly exceeded rugby league in that respect, in the juniors, but not hockey, which was so well run, and promoted, thanks largely to the work of men like the late, Barrie Smith. I played soccer for a few seasons, with Murwillumbah United, travelling as far afield as Tweed Heads, Tumbulgum and Byron Bay for games. But my rugby league coaches frowned on it, because I would often report for duty on the Sunday, limping. My form of soccer was of the agricultural, brutish type. After I shouldered a Byron Bay player into the turf, he yelled out to the ref: ‘Sir. He’s a rugby player’. My brother, Jeffrey also played soccer, before switching to league, but he was much refined than me. Ross Conlon was a soccer goal keeper in his teen years at Murwillumbah. He switched to league, with Old Boys, and went on to play for Australia in the 13-man code – from Balmain – against Great Britain in 1984.
It is the start of the first full week back in the normality of Brisbane life, after my wife, Marie and I spent six weeks on holiday in Europe. Today is my first visit to the Stafford Tavern, since our return. The regulars are there, and most of the talk is around yesterday’s gripping NRL grand final, won by the Roosters over Canberra. Greg Grainger, a former Murwillumbah Brothers’ teammate, missed the action, because he and his wife, Maree were in the air, on their way to London. As they were walking to their hotel in London, they passed through a large group of protesters (Brexit, veganism, one of those) and Greg gave them a mouthful. A female retorted that he was a typical brutish Australian. Ouch. But Greg would have taken that as a compliment.
Legendary Australian comedian, Paul Hogan turns 80. I never met ‘Hoges’, but saw him from a distance at a Brisbane Rugby League grand final in the 1970s, when he was part of the pre-game cavalcade, promoted by Winfield cigarettes. Former Australian Rugby League team manager and Brisbane Souths’ stalwart, Graham Kerr also has turned 80, and has been suitably recognised by the Magpies.
League historian, Bob Arbuthnot, has died aged 84. He had one of the best collections of rugby league scrapbooks, programmes and memorabilia in Australia – at his Carseldine residence in Brisbane’s north – so much so, noted Courier-Mail columnist, Bernie Pramberg wrote a story about him.
Rugby league stars of the 1970s and 80s, David Wright, Len Dittmar, Greg Veivers and Bryan Niebling are my interview subjects, as I MC a Men of League Foundation lunch at Club Pine Rivers. Veivers captained Australia, while Wright and Niebling also represented their country. Dittmar played for Queensland, but a knee injury ended his career when he was in his early 20s. Len’s father, Len Dittmar Snr was an Australian champion boxer, who moved from Adelaide to Brisbane when Len Jnr. was only small. Young Len was scared, when indigenous boxer, Elley Bennett turned up at Len’s gym for a spot of sparring. “Elley was the first black man I had seen,” young Len said.
Chat to an array of people at the bar afterwards, including ‘Bernie’, a Queensland Rail employee I got to know when I commuted to work at Queensland Newspapers. Like me, he is a Roosters’ fan. My former Brisbane Brothers’ teammates, Clem Hovi and Murray Schultz, both North Queenslanders, are there. Clem, whose home town is Ayr, says Australian centre, Gary Wellington, an Ayr local, was his hero when he was a lad. Murray, a Bowen boy, reminds me he was a shock appointment as coach of the Whitsundays Foley Shield side, ahead of former Cronulla and Newtown star, Steve Hansard, who was playing locally. Redcliffe stalwart, Terry Webb has been back to France and England for reunions at the Tonnein and Leeds clubs, respectively, where he played in the 1980s.
Amazing scenes in Senegal v Mali soccer match. A Mali player spits at the referee, while others chase the referee up the tunnel, as soldiers move in to protect the whistle blower. I will leave it at that.
Broncos’ Presentation Ball is well done, as usual, although Anthony Siebold is not as impressive a speaker as former coach, Wayne Bennett, who loved this occasion. Payne Haas is a convincing winner of the Paul Morgan Medal as Brisbane’s player of the year. Broncos’ skipper, Darius Boyd shakes my hand. I have commented before about how impressed I have been with his change of attitude to the media. Former Bronco, Gavin Allen tells me his son, Josh has signed with Canberra Raiders.
Watch Super League grand final, with St Helens beating Salford 23-6 at Old Trafford. Saints are coached by incoming Gold Coast Titans’ coach, Justin Holbrook. I saw Salford play Widnes at Widnes during the 1977-78 season and saw St Helens twice in the UK – the first time at Wembley in 1978, when they were beaten by Leeds in the Challenge Cup final; and the second time against Australia at Knowsley Road, St Helens in 1986. I also saw Saints play against Queensland at Lang Park in 1976.
Leeds beat Castleford 20-12 in the women’s grand final yesterday. Former British Test skipper, Garry Schofield says the under-11s boys at Parkside (South Leeds) provide better football than the women’s game!
1 Jeffrey Ricketts (left) and brother, Stewart Ricketts
2 Bob Arbuthnot (left) and former Queensland player, Paul ‘Pappy’ Pyers
3 Australian prop, Greg Veivers (standing) watches, as Great Britain’s Roger Millward score a try at Lang Park, Brisbane in 1977. David Ward is the other British player. The Australians on the deck are John Peard (left) and Mick Cronin
4 Wayne Bennett in action for Brisbane Souths against Redcliffe at Redcliffe Showgrounds in 1977 (Picture, Jim Fenwick).