FLASHBACK: July 1966

JULY 1966

Great Britain rugby league players and management were angered by the performance of Sydney referee, Col Pearce after the touring Lions lost the Second Test 6-4 to Australia at Brisbane’s Lang Park, the result squaring the series after the Kangaroos were beaten 17-14 in the first clash at the SCG.

The BBC’s Eddie Waring reported that the British were incensed that Pearce had dismissed prop, Bill Ramsay, while ignoring some of the antics of his Australian counterpart, Noel Kelly.

And British halfback, Tommy Bishop felt he should have been awarded a penalty try, when he was obstructed.

Instead, the match finished a try-less affair, with Welsh born Australian fullback, Keith Barnes from Balmain, kicking three penalty goals, while Arthur Keegan (Hull) landed two for Great Britain. It was the first time in 33 years that no try was scored in a Test, the previous time being in 1933 when Britain won 4-0 in Manchester.

Keegan was attacked by a male spectator while Barnes lined up one of his kicks for goal, but the ‘gentleman’ concerned was quickly thrown back into the crowd by the British players.

Such was the enormity of the crowd, at a so called all ticket affair, that the Brisbane City council had to hastily erect barricades along the sidelines to stop fans encroaching onto the playing area. As it was, thousands jumped the fence in the outer. The official crowd was 45,057, but thousands more got into the ground without paying, cutting their way through wire fencing.

The Sunday Mail’s Jack Reardon described it as a ‘bruising, brawling’ match, a second ‘Battle of Brisbane’. (The first ‘Battle of Brisbane’ was played in 1932, when Australia won 15-6, with a number of Australian players badly injured by a new tactic from Britain – the stiff arm tackle). The rough house tactics of the 1966 clash started after just eight minutes when Australian prop, John Wittenberg from Theodore in Central Queensland, was flattened by Brian Edgar.

Ramsey’s dismissal came four minutes into the second half, when the Hunslet forward kicked Mick Veivers when he was on the ground. Ramsey also had been sent off in the match against Newcastle the previous month. He appeared before an ARL judiciary hours after the Test and escaped with a caution.

Waring wrote that while Ramsay’s dismissal may have been warranted, the same punishment should have been meted out to Kelly, after a ‘nasty’ attack on British centre, Ian Brooke.

Nearly 30 years after the Test, I interviewed Tommy Bishop, and he was still filthy on Col Pearce.

“Without it sounding like sour grapes, the refereeing was a factor in our loss,” Bishop said. “We had Jack Bradley in the First Test and he allowed us to play the ball, English style, as long as we didn’t play it too stupidly. We played it more or less the same way in Brisbane, but Pearce penalised us. Some of the things that happened, we thought the referee was getting at us. When I look back, I don’t believe he was cheating, but he wasn’t doing us any favours.”

Reardon said the British should have clinched the series, despite the send-off, but a few bad passes at crucial times cost them a win.

“I think the better team lost,” he wrote.

Australian lock, Ron Lynch was outstanding, making three clean breaks, but suffering from a lack of support. Wittenberg’s hard, low defence stood out in a game of high tackles. Wittenberg and centre, Johnny Greaves (Canterbury-Bankstown) were Australia’s debutants.

Australian captain-coach, Ian Walsh won the scrums 12-5. Prop, Cliff Watson won the British player of the match award, with Reardon rating the Londoner alongside some of the great British forwards. (Australia won the Third Test 19-14 in Sydney to claim the series).

I was 13 at the time, and attended the Lang Park Test with my father, Jon Ricketts and younger brother, Jeffrey (10) and a few of dad’s mates from Murwillumbah (where we lived) and Lismore. Dad had not bought tickets, and was told the only tickets left were for children. He bought a child’s ticket for himself, shoved into the hands of the old bloke on the turnstile, and got in. The old bloke was so busy trying to get everyone into the ground, he wasn’t even looking at the colour of the tickets.

There were four curtain raisers, and the only one we missed was the 10 a.m. clash between Group 2 and Group 1 (Country New South Wales) ‘midgets’.

We saw the Woodenbong All Blacks, coached by Snider Mercy, play Fassifern, whose captain-coach was R Dauth, surely a relation of Ian Dauth, who came from Beaudesert and represented Queensland in 1978 and ’79.

This was followed by Woodlawn College (Lismore) under-10 stone playing Brisbane, with Fr. John Begg, an Ashgrove lad, with a background in surf life-saving at Kirra, the college coach. My father was a boarder at Woodlawn in the 1940s and played wing in the Opens rugby league, scoring 33 tries in one season. Playing on the wing for Woodlawn at Lang Park was Stephen Ring from Murwillumbah, whose father Eddie, was dad’s accountant.

Stephen had pace to burn, and four years later was involved in one of the great ‘stings’ of bush football, when he played for Murwillumbah Brothers, under the name, Peter Amos for a final round premiership match against Cudgen at Kingscliff in the Group 18 Gold Coast competition. (Stephen was back on the Tweed on holidays from New England University in Armidale).

Brothers could not make the finals, while Cudgen, a team with enormous natural talent, needed to win to qualify. The story goes that Murwillumbah Old Boys, the minor premiers, feared Cudgen more than any other team, and offered Brothers a keg of beer if they could beat them. With Ring running riot, Brothers duly won, and returned to Murwillumbah where the players polished off the keg. A few days later it emerged that Ring was not registered, so Brothers lost the two points, Cudgen got them, and went on to win the premiership.

The main curtain raiser to the Test was Northern Rivers (NSW) Combined High Schools v Brisbane. Northern Rivers were coached by my Murwillumbah High sports master, John Clunne from Banora Point, and included Murwillumbah students, Ross Smith, David Riddell, Paul Hitchens, Colin Andrews, Graham Bower and Geoff Edwards, with Edwards going on to play first grade for Newtown in Sydney. Smith was an outstanding all-round athlete, who played American football in the USA on a school exchange visit. Riddell, who went on to become an executive in the airline industry, was the brother of Eleanor Riddell, one of my classmates.

Other players in the Northern Rivers team that were familiar to me, or would become so, were fullback, John Johnson and five eighth, Peter Flanders. I played against Johnson when he was contracted to Tweed Heads Seagulls. Flanders played first grade in Sydney with Wests and Easts.

The Brisbane captain was halfback, Peter Clarke, while the hooker was Lee Hutchinson, two men who would go on to play first grade for Norths Devils. A reserve forward was John Young, perhaps the same John young who won premierships with Wests. The referee was Ron Harbottle. I don’t recall the results of the curtain raisers, although I think Woodlawn and Northern Rivers won against their Queensland rivals.

While this next story is not near as ‘famous’ as the ‘Peter Amos Affair’, I was at the centre of another controversy which saw Murwillumbah Brothers stripped of two premiership points. In 1978, after returning from a back packing trip around Europe, I visited my good mate, Phil Batty at Murwillumbah. Brothers were playing Old Boys at the Showgrounds, so Phil, a former Old Boys’ prop, took me to the game. Brothers’ reserve grade, which had yet to win a game, were short, so they asked me to help out. They provided me with the gear and out I went, playing in the centres (marking Gary Ryder from Burringbar) and we won 10-4. There was much celebration, but during the week the truth was revealed and Brothers were stripped of the points. I did not have a clearance from Brothers in Brisbane, where I had played in 1977.

Halfway through the 1979 season, I pulled up stumps at Norths in Brisbane because of work commitments and the impending birth of our first child. My former Murwillumbah High Opens skipper, Kel Sherry, who had played first grade for Easts and Souths in Sydney, was captain coach of Brothers Murwillumbah, and asked me to finish the season with the club, and I would only have to train once a week.

I attended training at West Murwillumbah, ahead of a match against Byron Bay at Kingscliff (why it was being played there, I’m not sure) and on match day I turned up at the ground, proud as punch that I would finish my career with the club where it had all started for me, and where my father had been treasurer (in 1961).

When I arrived at the ground, on a cold, wet afternoon, I was met by a grim faced Brothers’ secretary, Bill Carroll, who said my clearance had not arrived from Norths, and I couldn’t play. Brothers lost narrowly to the Norm Thomas coached Byron Bay and I drove back to Brisbane a dejected man, as I had to play that day to be eligible for the rest of the season. It was a narrow loss, and without boasting, I believe I could have made a difference. The only competitive games of league I played after that were inter-state journalists’ games. That is another story.

Australian centre, Johnny Greaves has British rival, Frank Myler bamboozled at Lang Park in 1966

Battle weary Australian prop, John Wittenberg

Phil Batty, Marilyn Frogley and Steve Ricketts at the Italo Australian Club, Lismore in 1973.
David Riddell shakes hands with Leo Kelly from the Murwillumbah Chamber of Commerce after a Youth Speaks for Australia competition. Geoff Barnes (Tweed River) and Susette Booth (Mullumbimby) are also pictured. Kelly ran a general store at Mooball

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